Friday, August 17, 2007

Bellevue leaders mull over Rinker annexation

Developer makes changes to Woodbridge Village plan

Express Staff Writer

Courtesy graphic. The new site plan for Harry Rinker?s proposed 280-acre Woodbridge Village annexation before the Bellevue City Council includes a central park with soccer and baseball fields, as well as a new road layout and a neighborhood shopping area near the proposed school ground. It?s been two years since this project was proposed and council members continue to debate the costs and benefits of such a large addition to the city.

If nothing else, members of developer Harry Rinker's team have to be commended for their indefatigability. After two years of work, including half a dozen of both Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council meetings, they continue to look for a way to make the proposed Woodbridge Village annexation proposal palatable to decision makers.

Appearing before the council Wednesday, Aug. 15, land planner David Clinger presented his latest vision of the 280-acre project, planned for a site on the east side of Gannett Road, just south of Bellevue.

"This is a result of recommendations we've heard from the council," Clinger said before diving into the changes he made to the previous plan. "These are some very good ideas."

Clinger said the biggest change was the addition of an approximately 4.7-acre community park at the center of the proposed 720-unit subdivision, a response to the council's request for a large public space with soccer and ball fields.

The council had also recommended moving the planned neighborhood shops closer to the proposed school site, a 25-acre parcel located at the southern end of the project. Clinger's solution was to split this shopping and community center area into two, leaving 3.4 acres at the northwestern edge of the site and placing a smaller 2.6-acre portion further down Gannett Road, to help further increase the walkability of the project.

With the addition of a central park and an increase in both neighborhood shopping and light-industrial space, the total number of homes has been reduced from 608 to 579, not including 54 planned live/work units.

Councilwoman Beth Robrahn, who has been the most outspoken council member in opposition to the project as proposed, praised the developers for adding a second major north-south thoroughfare to help increase the amount of interconnectivity, but remained leery about the overall scope of the plan.

"We need to establish a growth boundary," Robrahn said. "I think it would be acceptable to annex only half of this project."

Robrahn, who is the planning and zoning director for the city of Hailey, said she calculated Bellevue would require just under 800 new homes by 2025, but that many of those would be better off north of the city on the east side of state Highway 75/Main Street and in the Muldoon subdivision.

However, other council members said it could be a mistake to count on anyone ever seeking annexation of those areas.

"Those proposals aren't in front of us right now," Councilman Shaun Mahoney said. "They may never be in front of us."

Typically, annexations are brought to cities by landowners or developers seeking the benefits of city services and often greater development density than what is possible on county-zoned land. Cities, in turn, generally ask annexation applicants to provide the city with various benefits or public amenities.

In the meantime, the council continues to weigh the costs and benefits of such a large-scale addition to the city.

"It's scary," Councilman Steve Fairbrother said. "It's a crapload of land, but even if we don't annex, the city will change anyway."

For Fairbrother, the possible negative effects of the scale are at least partly offset by the fact that the project brings with it enough water rights to not only provide Woodbridge Village residents with water, but also give some back to the city. While this amount has yet to be determined, it's clear that such a benefit could help the developer's cause.

"We'd be stupid not to take this water," Fairbrother said.

The council will continue its discussion on Rinker's proposal on Tuesday, Sept. 11, and Mayor Jon Anderson said he would like to discuss the potential effects on the city's sewer system, as well as any impacts on downstream water users.

As indicated by the amount of time that city officials have already spent deliberating the Rinker project, the extensive number of issues created are complex enough to preclude an easy decision. Councilwoman Tammy Eaton urged her fellow council members to keep the big picture in mind.

"Regardless of the money (the city would receive), we have to ask, in 20 years is this what we'll want to see?"

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