Friday, June 15, 2007

County denies Cove Springs mediation

Express Staff Writer

Plans for a large development in the Bellevue Triangle hit another snag this week when the Blaine County Commission denied a request by the developer for mediated planning sessions.

"We certainly have carefully considered the request for mediation," said Commission Chairman Tom Bowman following a half-hour executive session on Thursday, June 14. "At this point, it is the opinion of this board that this is not an appropriate time to go into mediation."

Cove Springs is a proposed 338-unit planned-unit development that would be located five miles southeast of Bellevue and would be capable of supporting more than 1,000 residents. The subdivision would cover 600 acres of the 4,630-acre Cove Ranch.

Citing the development's potential impacts to wildlife, agricultural uses and surrounding hillsides, the county Planning and Zoning Commission on April 19 recommended that the application be denied. The Blaine County Commission plans to hold two, three-hour public hearings on the proposal in August.

In a June 11 letter to Bowman, Cove Springs attorney Martin Flannes pointed out that Idaho Code requires that the processing of applications "shall include the option of mediation ... at any point during the decision-making process."

"The applicant hereby exercises its right to pursue the mediation option," Flannes stated.

He explained that the P&Z's deliberations and findings of fact contained little in the way of suggestions to his client, but generally defer to the commission on many matters. A "full and frank" discussion of the various issues surrounding the application could be achieved through mediation, he stated.

Bowman said mediation could be warranted for the application but pointed out that two of the members of the County Commission haven't even seen the application yet.

"However, the board would be open to the submission of the request at a later time," he said. "This later time would not be before the first two presentations by the applicant, and public comment."

Commissioner Larry Schoen concurred.

"We need time to familiarize ourselves with the material, hear about the P&Z's decision and hear public comment," he said.

As she did with the P&Z's recommendation for denial, Cove Springs partner Cynthia Miley expressed disappointment with the board's decision on Thursday. She did, however, say she recognizes its need to review the application and dig deeper into the process before continuing.

"We understand the reason the county has denied our request for mediation," she said. "We look forward to the commissioners' reviewing our application and working with us in the near future."

As part of its deliberation into the Cove Springs planned-unit development application, the P&Z was required to make a finding as to whether the housing development contained superior design aspects. County ordinance stipulates that all PUDs must contain additional design features beyond those required for regular developments. In return for providing those features, developers can be granted waivers from county standards such as lot size and width, building setbacks, road widths and density.

In its review of the superior design standards section, P&Z members agreed that the proposed Cove Springs subdivision did not meet the additional requirements and therefore should not be granted any development waivers.

P&Z Commissioner Doug Werth, while lauding the developers' proposal to set aside significant farmland near Gannett Road as permanent open space, said that alone wasn't enough to meet the requirements.

"It does so at the expense of other significant factors," Werth said.

He noted that as proposed, the subdivision would extend well into the undeveloped upper cove for which the property is named, and said that area is the least suitable for development.

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