Friday, November 14, 2008

Hailey works with county to shape growth

Area of city impact workshop planned for December

Express Staff Writer

Despite a dramatic slowdown in the local and national economy, Blaine County officials expect a surge in population in years to come. The big question is "where are they all going to live?"

Hailey officials want some say in that decision. A public workshop on Hailey's area of city impact ordinance will take place in early December to address this issue.

"There are three ways you can deal with growth," said Hailey Planning Director Beth Robrahn. "You can just stop it, you can accommodate it by developing within existing cities, or you can allow it to sprawl on the outskirts of the city."

Blaine county officials expect a 4.4 percent annual growth rate based on 2007 census figures. Hailey planning and zoning officials have estimated this could bring 10,000 new residents to the city by 2025. Hailey currently has 6,500 residents.

"The best scenario would be to accommodate this growth with a combination of development within the existing city limits, along with some expansion beyond city boundaries," Robrahn said.

Expansion of city boundaries means building on unincorporated county lands to the north, east, south and west of town. That property can be developed according to county zoning standards, or annexed into city limits, which typically translates into more homes per acre.

A proposed area of city impact ordinance and map, which city council reviewed during a city council meeting Monday night, designates four zones surrounding the city, and lays out terms of what the city would like to take place there and what it would not like to happen.

The ordinance also sets out guidelines for communicating with the county about developments on county lands that would impact city services or infrastructure.

The "Heritage Zone" consists of an open-space corridor between Hailey and Bellevue. The Council is considering whether or not to require consent with Bellevue officials over what takes place in this area.

"I trust both cities to come to an agreement right now," said councilwoman Carol Brown. "But it may not be that way in the future."

City attorney Ned Williamson said that not requiring consent between both municipalities would "improve Haley's ability to negotiate" with landowners and the county on what takes place in the Heritage Zone.

The "Near Zone" includes property close to the current city boundary, including Croy Canyon and Quigley Canyon. The Council decided Monday to encourage, rather than require planned unit developments within this zone. The Council also decided not to require water and sewer districts in this area and the Heritage Zone.

The surrounding "Advisory Zone" is made up of hillside areas around Hailey and would have low priority for annexation due to hillside ordinances, which largely preclude development.

Blaine County Regional Planner Jeff Adams, who attended Monday's meeting, said the county stopped about 1/2 of the potential growth in side canyons and other sensitive areas surrounding county cities when it adopted Blaine County's 2025 Comprehensive Plan several years ago.

"We down zoned it," said Adams, who stressed the importance of approaching growth issues from a regional perspective.

"The area of city impact agreement is how we do this. If we sit down together and talk we can agree upon where growth should occur," he said.

Hailey officials want input from residents on how this conversation takes place.

"I hope the area of city impact ordinance can be used as a tool to plan wisely," said Robrahn, whose job includes implementing the city's comprehensive development plan.

Generally speaking, the comprehensive plan calls for higher densities at the city's center, with gradually decreasing densities toward the city's edge. The plan also calls for building within the city limits before expanding outward through annexation.

Robrahn said the city council passed an old town site overlay district ordinance a few years ago that increased density within portions of the city by decreasing lot sizes from 6,000 square feet to 4,500. Many Hailey residents opposed the increase in allowable density.

"This was a very contentious process," said Robrahn.

Hailey City Council will hold a public workshop in December or January to deliberate on the final form of the area of city impact ordinance, time and place to be announced.

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