Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Crystal Creek Ranch gains ground

County P&Z gives preliminary approval to development plan

Express Staff Writer

Map courtesy of Crystal Creek Ranch developers More than 80 percent of the 1,620-acre Crystal Creek Ranch, outlined in red on this development map, would be preserved as permanent open space under a development plan to which the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission gave tentative approval last week. The developed portion of the ranch would cover approximately 250 acres, located primarily on the property’s northeast side.

If ultimately approved by Blaine County, the Crystal Creek Ranch subdivision would contribute to wildlife habitat and fisheries, members of the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission said last week.

For that and other reasons, the P&Z voted 4-to-2 during a meeting on Thursday, March 27, to recommend approval for the proposed cluster development south of Bellevue. Voting against the plan were Commissioners Doug Werth and Pat Murphy.

The large development application now goes to the Blaine County Commission for consideration.

P&Z commissioners said the plan to permanently preserve more than 80 percent of the 1,620-acre ranch would conserve a very important part of the county.

The developers propose to limit their development footprint to approximately 250 acres, or just 14 percent of property formerly known as the Diamond Dragon Ranch. The remaining 1,384 acres of the ranch would be permanently protected as part of a contiguous conservation tract.

Located northeast of the intersection of state Highway 75 and U.S. 20 at Timmerman Junction, the ranch is drained by four spring-fed creeks. One by one, Black Slough, Crystal Creek and Spring Creek feed into Willow Creek, which flows into the Big Wood River just downstream from Stanton Crossing, where Highway 20 crosses the braided riverbed.

Using proceeds from the development of the ranch as the economic engine to drive a large-scale restoration project, developers are proposing to repair the streams and let overgrazed lands heal.

The developed portion of the acreage would be subdivided into 38 residential lots ranging in size from 3.01 acres to 5.16 acres, distributed in 11 clusters.

The plan also calls for development of six affordable lots under the county's inclusionary housing ordinance, ranging in size from 1.02 acres to 10.29 acres.

On Monday, Blaine County Regional Planner Jeff Adams said some of the commissioners felt that the lot sizes could be smaller and separation between clusters increased to effect a more rural character.

As part of their application, the Crystal Creek Ranch developers have asked the county to allow them to bunch all 11 of the clusters on 250 acres near the northern half of the property. Under county ordinances, developers can ask for as little as a 400-foot separation between clusters to protect natural resources and for other reasons.

Adams said the commissioners conditioned their approval on sufficient water rights, as detailed in a water plan, staying with the land. He said approval also requires a conservation easement, to preserve the 1,384-acre conservation tract, to be held in perpetuity by the conservation group Ducks Unlimited.

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