Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Life Church annexation request gets feedback from City Council

Zoning changes could lead to annexation

Express Staff Writer

The Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission is considering an annexation application for 10.68 acres north of Hailey. The property, shown here, is proposed as the future home for Hailey?s Life Church. The church?s existing location is at 406 North Main St. in Hailey. Photo by Willy Cook

Representatives of the Life Church of Hailey have the patience of Job. Eleven years after they began presentations to county and city officials regarding development of a 10.68-acre parcel north of Albertson's grocery store, they have been sent back once more to the Hailey P&Z.

This time they were sent back to the drawing board with specific zoning guidelines, which could eventually result in annexation of the property into Hailey's city limits.

The property was given to the Life Church by an anonymous donor 10 years ago. The landowners were denied a 2003 request to build a septic system in Blaine County, due to the proximity (less than 100 feet) to the city of Hailey's sewer lines. A subsequent annexation request, which would have included extension of services, received a recommendation of denial by the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission in February 2007 due to what Planning Director Beth Robrahn called the prospect of "the creep of business zoning into the north side of the city."

Church spokeswoman Janine Bear said in February that the property owners were in a Catch-22.

"You told us to bring you a rock," she said. "We did. You then told us to bring you a bigger rock. We did. Then you told us to bring a blue-colored rock."

Despite her obvious frustration, Bear said, "We are going to build a church here one way or the other."

Attorney Ed Lawson, legal counsel for the Life Church application, provided a master plan for the property to the Hailey City Council on Monday night. The plan closely resembled an earlier one brought forward in February. The annexation request calls for a 6,000-square-foot, two-story church on four partly wooded acres west of Highway 75, adjacent to River Grove farm.

The council was unanimously in support of building the church, but wary of plans for the rest of the property, which included 3.5 acres of Transitional zoning (TR) behind Albertson's and 1.2 acres of General Residential zoning (GR) bordering Highway 75 between Albertson's Express gas station and River Grove farm.

TR zoning allows higher density, up to 10 residential units per acre, including office buildings. Current Blaine County zoning (R-1) for the 10.68 acres allows for one residential unit per acre.

"We've spent a lot of time on this over the years without a clear-cut direction from you," said Lawson on Monday night. "This land is going to be developed at some point, in some way. Through annexation the city will not lose control of this property."

The council expressed approval of the applicant's planned donation of 1.7 acres on the west side of the property behind Marketron Industries to the city of Hailey, landscape buffering to appease neighboring landowners in Mountain View subdivision, and a public-access corridor to the Big Wood River. In addition, the property owners have plans to relocate three-decades-old Forest Service buildings to a spot near the river for church-related activities.

Despite these concessions, council members unanimously decided that TR zoning behind Albertson's was inappropriate, and were evenly divided over what they would like to see happen on the property along Highway 75.

Councilwoman Martha Burke said Transitional zoning was intended as a buffer zone between high commercial use and established neighborhoods, such as the area east of Main Street in Old Hailey.

"We've given you the best advice we have already, and it did not include Transitional zoning," she said.

Nearby county property owners from Mountain View subdivision and River Grove Farm expressed strong opposition to annexation of the property, saying the plans were too vague and could lead to commercial and residential sprawl at the north end of Hailey.

"This would be like changing the rules in the middle of the game," said Carla Scanlon. "I still don't know what is proposed for the land next to where I have lived for two decades."

The council voted on zoning guidelines for the applicant without guaranteeing annexation. The council voted for General Residential zoning behind Albertson's, and was split between zoning for business or open space along Highway 75. Councilman Don Keirn was not present at Monday night's meeting.

"This is such an important commercial development for the city, we should not make the decision without a full council," Burke said.

The council will hold a public hearing and workshop on the annexation request in late September or early October.

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