Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Commissioners: Cove Springs hearings must go on

County denies request by applicants to delay public hearings

Express Staff Writer

The consideration of the Cove Springs Subdivision application by Blaine County officials has been a controversial process from the very start.

During the project's consideration before the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission, objections raised by the applicants, the public and various other entities both for and against the subdivision repeatedly delayed its progress.

The application's first hearing before the Blaine County Commission on Tuesday was no different.

As the first item on their agenda related to Cove Springs, commissioners considered a request by the applicants to delay consideration of the project to a future date. The applicants' rationale for the requested continuance had to do with the delayed completion by county consultants of two separate reports on potential impacts the project might have on local wildlife and water.

Based on the advice of counsel, the commissioners voted unanimously to deny the applicants' request.

"I do not think a continuation is warranted," Blaine County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves told the commissioners.

And with that, the County Commission initiated what is sure to be a lengthy and at times heated public hearing process.

The applicants' request for a continuation is similar to a number of other complaints they've lodged throughout the process, Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said.

"The applicants and their attorneys have continually raised due process issues," Schoen said. "I think the county has done a scrupulous job of protecting due process."

In their recommendation to the Blaine County Commission earlier this year, P&Z commissioners suggested denial for the Cove Springs Subdivision application during a nearly six-hour meeting on April 19. As originally proposed, the development—the largest single development proposal ever brought before the county—was to have 338 lots spread across a 600-acre portion of the much larger 4,630-acre Cove Ranch.

The proposed subdivision would be located five miles southeast of Bellevue, and would be capable of supporting more than 1,000 residents.

But in an effort to make the project more palatable for the Blaine County Commission, the Cove Springs developers elected to go back to the drawing board over the summer.

On Aug. 1, they submitted their revised development plan to the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Department. Backers of the revised plan say the changes are meant to address the concerns expressed by the public and the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission during the months-long public hearing process that stretched throughout much of 2006 and into this year.

No doubt, weighing heavily on P&Z commissioners' minds in the run up to their April vote was the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's request that the county deny the Cove Springs development application because of its potential impacts on wildlife and wildlife habitat.

During an interview at the Idaho Mountain Express in early August, Steve Beevers, president of the Cove Springs development group, said they listened to the concerns expressed by the public and county officials when making the changes this summer.

"Density and wildlife and water were all addressed," Beevers said.

Among those changes is a shortening of the four peninsula-shaped neighborhoods that extend farther up the "cove" into prime wildlife habitat.

Whether those and other changes satisfy the Blaine County Commission remains to be seen.

At least one group—the Boise-based Idaho Conservation League—has already come out against the new plan and is trying to rally the public to speak out against it.

In a press release, Colleen Teevin, an ICL staffer working out of the organization's Ketchum office, states that the County Commission should firmly reject the development proposal.

"Our water, our wildlife and our way of living belong to all of us and are what makes life here unique," Teevin said. "The Cove Springs development fails to respect these public assets."

The County Commission is scheduled to begin discussing the Cove Springs application at 1:30 p.m. today, Wednesday, Oct. 3. The public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposal for the first time during a meeting hosted by the commission at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 4.

Both meetings will be held in the upstairs meeting room at the Old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

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