Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How safe is Quigley for planned 378-home development?

Hailey Fire Chief calls for secondary access road and increased fire safety measures

Express Staff Writer

How safe and accessible is Quigley Canyon for a planned 378-home residential development, complete with an 18-hole golf course and year-round clubhouse? That's one of the many questions the Hailey City Council is asking as it considers the largest annexation request in the city's history.

Another is whether Hailey residents will continue to be able to use hiking and cross-country skiing trails in the canyon. The Blaine County Recreation District has maintained skiing trails at the mouth of the canyon for several years.

Quigley Canyon developer David Hennessy said in an interview that residents will lose access to those trails, as well as to hiking trails above the north side of the canyon above Quigley Road, if he is not allowed to annex 1,100 acres of the canyon into the city limits. And only 120 homes would be built in the canyon under county zoning.

"If someone builds a million-dollar home out there, they are not going to want someone hiking up the hill behind their house," said Hennessy, who owns the valley floor as well as many of the hillsides surrounding it.

Yet those hillsides could pose problems for Hennessy.

Hailey City Hall was packed Thursday night with citizens voicing both support for and criticism of the development plan as city staff defended a list of conditions the Planning and Zoning Commission had placed on the developer when it recommended annexation this fall. Hennessy said those conditions would cost his project an additional $64 million. He has already offered the town $27 million in amenities in exchange for annexation.

The meeting was the second in a series of meetings for the council to consider various aspects of the complex annexation request.

Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman raised avalanche, fire and emergency access concerns last week when he showed the council a map of 20 potential avalanche chutes in the canyon, 15 of which could leave debris from 2 to 10 feet deep across roads planned in the development. Because of that, Chapman pressed the council to require from the developer a secondary access road, running from the mouth of the canyon at Quigley Road one and a half miles east to Quigley Pond, for emergency access.

The developer's plans are to divert Quigley Road through a cluster of homes at the mouth of the canyon and merge it mid canyon with an extended Fox Acres Road, which will enter the development near Wood River High School.

"Eventually, a (temporary) partial or complete shutdown of Fox Acres Road will be necessary," said Chapman, who went on to describe the sage-covered hills surrounding Quigley Canyon as a potential wildfire tinderbox.

The fire chief warned that possible floating embers from a fire in the canyon require that the developer build to "wildland-urban interface" criteria, one of the conditions set by the P&Z, because the city is already under-equipped for fighting large fires.

"It took every fire-fighting apparatus in Blaine County to protect eight homes from a fire west of China Gardens in Hailey last summer," he said.

Wildland-urban interface building criteria include installing fire hydrants every 500 feet, keeping building heights below 30 feet, and installing indoor sprinkler systems in homes. The sprinklers are meant to save not just a single home, but the entire neighborhood, by extinguishing house fires when they are small.

"Both sides of Quigley Canyon are considered to be 'high' fire risk," Chapman said. "The entire canyon is susceptible to any fire that starts within it."

The next meeting on Quigley annexation is set for Thursday, Jan. 15, at 5:30 p.m. The likely subject matter is water and wastewater.

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