Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bellevue takes cue from Sun Valley

Council looks to avoid workforce housing flap

Express Staff Writer

Pursuant to 5th District Court Judge Robert Elgee's ruling that Sun Valley's Workforce Housing Linkage Ordinance was unconstitutional, Bellevue City Attorney Jim Phillips has recommended that the City Council repeal its similar ordinance.

At the council's meeting Thursday, Aug. 9, council members agreed with Phillips that the city should repeal its linkage ordinance, and thus avoid potential litigation.

According to City Clerk Dee Barton, the city has collected only $1,700 under the ordinance to date. The city could be required to return it if the ordinance is repealed.

On July 3, Elgee ruled that Sun Valley's linkage ordinance was, in fact, not an "in-lieu" fee, but rather a tax, which the city would need authorization from the Idaho Legislature to levy. Like Sun Valley's, Bellevue's ordinance connects a fee to building permits. Elgee concluded in the Sun Valley case that such a fee is the equivalent of requiring homebuilders to provide financial assistance in the development of employee housing. Bellevue extended its ordinance to include commercial developments as well.

"It's a lengthy, complicated ordinance," Bellevue Planning and Zoning Administrator Craig Eckles said. "Essentially, the fee is calculated on the creation of job demands through the construction of new housing."

Because funds from the ordinance went to benefit the community as a whole, but was paid for only by developers, the court decided it was a tax rather than a contribution and, therefore, illegal.

Phillips said Bellevue was currently the only city in Blaine County with such an ordinance. Councilman Chris Koch said he would like to see the city find an alternative method for providing workforce housing.

Bellevue council members asked Phillips to begin drafting an ordinance that would repeal the linkage ordinance and will discuss the matter further at their meeting on Thursday, Aug. 24.

In other Bellevue news:

· City Council members approved the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission to create a new Light Industrial/Business zoning district, a step designed to help bring the city's land-use map into compliance with its comprehensive plan. The district will allow for more business options than the current light-industrial-only zoning. Whereas the light-industrial zoning allows for a maximum of 25 percent retail space, the Light Industrial/Business zoning removes that restriction, opening the door for commercial ventures looking for frontage on state Highway 75. The new district will be located on the east side of Main Street, north of Spruce Street and south of Chestnut Street, and on the west side opposite the Gannett Road intersection. The council also adopted a Recreation/Green Belt zoning district in order to designate spaces reserved for outdoor public use.

· Council members are one step closer to finalizing the budget, as they've managed to cut costs in order to balance revenue and expenses for the 2007-2008 fiscal year. Next year's budget is estimated at $2.4 million, and to help stay out of the red, council members passed an ordinance at Thursday's meeting that reduces their monthly salaries from $200 to $100. The council will hold a final public hearing on Thursday, Aug. 23, before passing an ordinance to make the budget official.

· Pursuant to a resident's complaint of a neighbor's noisy chickens, the council is looking into creating an ordinance that would regulate the number of animals, other than domesticated pets, residents can have within city limits. Council members asked city staff to look into similar ordinances of surrounding cities and counties in order to develop an appropriate ordinance for Bellevue.

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