Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Revamped Cove Springs off to rough start

Public comments indicate disapproval for development plan


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

Last week for Cove Springs comments

Beginning today, Oct. 10, at 9 a.m., the Blaine County Commission will resume its consideration of the Cove Springs project. Later tonight, the public will be given a final opportunity to comment at a meeting at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey. The public can also submit written comments on the Cove Springs development plan until 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12. Written comments must be addressed to the Blaine County Commission and sent to 219 First Avenue South, Suite 208, Hailey, ID 83333.

Public sentiment regarding the proposed Cove Springs subdivision still appears heavily weighted against the massive development, at least according to responses generated during a public meeting last Thursday, Oct. 4, at the Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

During the meeting, more speakers voiced opposition to the Cove Springs development plan than those who spoke in support.

Of the 32 people who commented during the more than two-hour-long meeting, 18 indicated they were against the development, while 11 said they were in support. Three did not indicate whether or not they are opposed to the development.

As has been the case from the beginning, most comments against the Cove Springs plan contain some reference to the proposed subdivision's potential impacts on water, wildlife and agricultural traditions in south Blaine County.

In their recommendation to the Blaine County Commission earlier this year, the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended denial for the Cove Springs Subdivision application near the conclusion of a nearly six-hour-long meeting on April 19.

P&Z commissioners at that hearing said a request by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for denial because of potential impacts to wildlife and wildlife habitat was a significant contributor to their decision.

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 subdivision would be located five miles southeast of Bellevue on the Gannett-Picabo Road, and would be capable of supporting more than 1,000 residents.

In an effort to make the project more palatable for the Blaine County Commission, Cove Springs developers elected to go back to the drawing board over the summer. In doing so, they reduced the number of proposed lots to 308.

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.

During an interview 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.

Despite those changes, the public still appeared to be opposed to the project last Thursday.

Among the speakers who stated opposition to the was Shoshone-area farmer Fred Brossy. Brossy's family used to own the 4,630-acre Cove Ranch.

"I don't see any significant changes," he said.

Brossy said his biggest concern is the development's potential impacts to water resources in the area, especially Silver Creek. He said the creek is fed in part by waters originating on the Cove Ranch.

Brossy said the water gauge on Silver Creek showed a significant drop in flow during this dry summer. He said the pressures from the Cove Springs development would only add to those water woes.

"I think this (summer) was a great example of the reality of that," he said. "I strongly oppose this application. I just don't think it makes sense."

Also basing his opposition on water concerns was Dean Rogers, a farmer from the Bellevue Triangle. Rogers said if its allowed to be built, the development will ensure the decline of the aquifer that underlies the area and which farmers heavily rely upon.

He said the aquifer has already seen worrisome declines in recent years.

"The wells are not producing what they were 20 years ago," Rogers said.

Siding with the Cove Springs developers last Thursday were a number of local residents, including Jim Spinelli, executive director of the Hailey Chamber of Commerce.

Acknowledging that with progress come growing pains, Spinelli said the developers of the proposed project have done everything they can to make it the best subdivision they can. He said the plan is the best he's ever seen in Blaine County.

"I think it's good for this community," Spinelli said. "We might as well get the best thing we can find."




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