Wednesday, May 30, 2007

County delays approval for Peregrine housing

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Commission showed reluctance this week to approve a plan that would build affordable housing reserved for school district employees.

On Tuesday, May 29, commissioners considered a pre-application, affordable-housing plan for the proposed Peregrine Ranch subdivision. Such plans are required for large developments in the county.

Developer Harry Rinker proposes to build 72 market-rate homes along with a nine-hole golf course on a 158-acre property between Highway 75 and Buttercup Road, north of Hailey. The county has not yet approved the proposal.

Under the affordable-housing component of the development, Rinker has proposed placing the subdivision's 22 affordable-housing units offsite on two parcels owned by the school district near Woodside Elementary School and Wood River Middle School, both in Hailey.

The 22 units are more than Blaine County regulations require, but Rinker has agreed to the extra units because he isn't providing the land.

Under the plan, eight of the affordable homes would be built next to the elementary school and the remaining 14 would be built on land near the middle school. School district employees would get priority in buying 20 of the 22 homes. The remaining two units, on the Woodside Elementary School parcel, would be reserved for Hailey city employees.

The commissioners appeared comfortable with placing the units offsite, which is allowed by the county's inclusionary housing ordinance, but questioned the plan to reserve most of them for teachers and other district employees.

The county's inclusionary housing ordinance allows between 30 and 40 percent of a development's affordable housing units to be reserved for specific employers such as the school district. The commissioners agreed that approval of the Peregrine Ranch plan as proposed might require amending the ordinance.

Commissioner Sarah Michael expressed adamant opposition.

"What do we say to all of the other people on the (housing authority's) list?" Michael asked. "We have so little affordable housing."

Reserving six units near the elementary school for the school district and two for Hailey employees would fall under the county's allowance for employers, she noted. However, she said, the ordinance wouldn't allow the remaining units to be reserved for school district employees.

"I want to have the other 14 units for the community," Michael said.

In the end, commissioners approved the plan's placement of the eight affordable housing units on school district land near the elementary school, but delayed any decision on the remaining 14 units proposed for the middle school parcel pending a legal review by Blaine County deputy prosecuting attorney Tim Graves.

Despite the slow pace with which the commission is proceeding, not everyone on the three-member body expressed hostility toward all aspects of Rinker's affordable-housing plan.

While admitting the developer would benefit from not having to purchase the ground where the affordable homes would be built, Commissioner Larry Schoen differed with those who have characterized the arrangement as a sweetheart deal for Rinker.

"The goal is to get housing built in the near term rather than the long term," he said. "I view this as an opportunity."

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