Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bellevue wrangles with density and housing

Strahorn annexation debate highlights issues once again

Express Staff Writer

The Bellevue City Council last week voted to allow developer Jeff Pfaeffle to increase the number of houses in his annexation proposal although it has not yet approved the annexation. The council's action was preceded by a presentation by Blaine County Regional Planner Jeff Adams in which he advocated more density in future development within Bellevue's proposed area of city impact.

Pfaeffle owns about 110 acres of land in Slaughterhouse Canyon, 10 of which are already within city limits. He wants to annex the remaining acres in order to create a development called Strahorn Ranch.

At a public hearing on May 18, Pfaeffle had requested to increase the density of his proposal, adding another 24 units to the 173 that were approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission last September, for a total of 197 units. Out of the additional 24 units, 21 would be part of the annexation proposal, with the remaining three part of the development already within city limits.

The increase is the result of the 14 percent affordable housing required by city ordinance, Pfaeffle said at the May meeting. To make the project financially viable, he needs to increase density to counter the costs of impact fees, affordable housing, and water and sewer, Pfaeffle said.

The council approved the request on Thursday, June 14.

The council required the developer to pay impact fees of about $20,000 for each unit that is not considered affordable housing, as recommended by city consultant Richard Caplan. However, Pfaeffle will have to pay the annexation fees associated with water and sewer connections for all 197 units.

With the additional houses, the density of Strahorn Ranch becomes 1.7 units per acre, a number well below the 5 units per acre recommended by Adams for developments within the area of city impact.


"It's not as dense as it could be, but we want to keep the character of the canyon and be kind to the existing neighbors," Pfaeffle said.

Although the council allowed Pfaeffle to alter his original plan, it was clear that the members were far from making a decision on the annexation as a whole.

Councilwoman Beth Robrahn expressed her interest in requiring transfer of development rights for all annexations. However, after Adams' presentation, which included discussion of how TDRs could be used to contain density to certain areas, the council was in no way ready to define possible TDR requirements.

"I feel like my head is about to explode," Councilman Chris Koch said. "We've got so many things going on in the city, with three annexations, the ACI and TDRs."

The area of city impact will determine the most logical zones to build as cities grow by looking at factors such as proximity to services and existing infrastructure, Adams said at the May meeting. In order to combat urban sprawl, Adams said, it's best to increase the density in the area of city impact, and that way minimize the need for citizens to drive everywhere.

"These are the areas the city plans to annex," Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said Thursday.

When asked what the county would do with the land in question if Bellevue denied the proposal, Schoen said that with an area-of-city-impact agreement between the city and the county, they would work together to determine future development.

In order to facilitate such an agreement, the council voted not to include TDRs, as the TDRs would take too long to incorporate into it.

At the end of the Strahorn meeting, Councilwoman Robrahn said she would like to postpone further annexation meetings while the council goes through its budget for next year.

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