Friday, July 6, 2007

Wood River Valley cities see incremental population growth

Ketchum leads with 2.5 percent increase


By JON DUVAL
Express Staff Writer

Jeff Loomis, left, of Galena Engineering, and Nick Purdy, right, representing the Rinker Co., use a map of developer Harry Rinker?s proposed annexation of 280 acres into Bellevue to help illustrate the layout of the project during a site visit on Wednesday, May 2. Despite the U.S. Census Bureau?s estimate of a minus 0.6 percent population growth rate for Bellevue, developers are looking to add more than 1,000 homes and 500 acres to the city. Photo by David N. Seelig

The combined population of cities within the Wood River Valley climbed an estimated 1.7 percent from mid-2005 to mid-2006, largely due to significant increases in Ketchum and Hailey, according to recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Based primarily on building permit applications, the bureau's figures estimated 80 new residents in Ketchum and 162 in Hailey, equaling growth of 2.5 and 2.1 percent, respectively, compared to a growth rate of 0.7 percent for Sun Valley and minus 0.6 percent for Bellevue.

Overall, Idaho's population increased by 2.6 percent during the same time period, making it the third-fastest growing state in the nation. This was largely the result of population explosions in the suburbs of Boise, highlighted by nearby Star, whose population rose by nearly 45 percent.

Despite the estimated negative growth in Bellevue for 2006, developers' appetites for large expansion in the city appear unabated. There are three annexation proposals before the city, which, if approved, would add approximately 1,000 homes and more than 500 acres to Bellevue.

Regardless of the census figures, these development proposals are justified said City Planning and Zoning Administrator Craig Eckles, whose own rough calculations actually show slight population growth.

"With these annexations, we're looking at 30-year buildouts,' Eckles said. "This is not going to happen tomorrow or even next year."

He added that there are very few units left in the Sunrise and Riverside subdivisions and that affordable property values are making Bellevue an increasingly attractive option to potential homeowners.

"The population wants diversity in their choices," Eckles said, explaining that the proposed developments could be a possible solution as demand grows in the future.

The important goal is to create a self-sustaining process, Eckles said, explaining that an increasing population will need an economic foundation.

"Rooftops create demand," Eckles said. "More residents will necessitate more schools and services, meaning more jobs for the people living here."

As well, reduced options in Hailey could lead to the growth of its southern neighbor.

"We're running out of places to build," Hailey City Administrator Jim Spinelli said. "We're reinventing ourselves by tearing down and rebuilding."

Hailey's 2.1 percent growth was below its 3 percent annual average, Spinelli said, also attributing escalating property values to the decrease in population expansion.

"It's getting to the point where most working folks can't afford to move here," Spinelli said. "We now have second homeowners selling to other second homeowners."

The combined affects of restrictive geography and increasing property values in Hailey could reach as far as Carey, which is 30 miles southeast of Hailey.

According to the Census Bureau, Carey's population was estimated at 508 in 2006, a decrease of -0.6 percent from the previous year. However, Planing and Zoning Administrator Sara Mecham said that number is too low, and that the city has calculated an average growth of 3.7 percent every year for the last five years. At her last count, in 2005, the population was up to 670.

Like Bellevue, Carey is potentially facing a dramatic expansion, with current development applications totaling over 1,000 units. While that doesn't necessarily mean 1,000 new homes, developers are trying to ensure the availability of lots, Mecham said.

"There's a lot of interest here and we are doing a good job of keeping up with future demands," Mecham said. "What comes first, housing or jobs, we just can't tell."

Like Spinelli, Mecham said available space will be an important factor moving forward. As Hailey and Bellevue reach their growth limits, potential homeowners looking for a small, rural community will turn their sights on Carey.

"The county will always witness peaks and valleys in growth rate," Mecham said. "What tomorrow brings, we will have to wait and see."




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