Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The why of it

The Blaine County Commissioners need to do more than give the controversial Cove Springs development thumbs up or thumbs down.

They need to go beyond the 62 pages of dry findings of fact and conclusions of law issued by the Planning and Zoning Commission when it recommended that the county reject the project.

They need to explain clearly, in plain English, the underpinnings of their decision on this complex project because it will have far-reaching policy implications for the future of agriculture, wildlife, water, and residential development in the south's wide-open spaces.

Cove Springs is the largest single development ever proposed in Blaine County outside of a city and in the middle of an active agricultural area. It would lie between unincorporated Gannett and Bellevue on 4,478 acres. If built, it could house up to 1,000 people on 308 lots on 597 acres. The rest would remain as open space or cultivated ground.

It's a cluster development, which some planners champion as a way to protect agricultural operations by concentrating residential development on its fringes. Whether clusters perform as promised is hotly debated by planners and developers.

Without clustered development, the big ranch could be cut up into ranchettes with fewer homes than called for in the current proposal. These would have impacts of their own on big game winter range, sage grouse habitat, and the aquifer that supports world famous Silver Creek and agriculture.

The Board of Commissioners should explain why one sort of development at Cove Springs is preferable to another.

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