Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cove Springs hearings proceed

Developers: conflict with Blaine County over zoning has been resolved

Developers hope a resolution of some building site issues will help the Cove Ranch proposal move forward. Photo by Mountain Express

A conflict between Blaine County and the developers of Cove Springs related to building sites on hillside lands has been resolved. The changes, which the county planning department's staff has recommended for approval, should smooth the way for the next phase of the project's consideration by the county Planning and Zoning Commission tomorrow.

The dispute had to with delineating areas on the 4,630-acre Cove Ranch that should be considered off-limits to development because of their inclusion in the Mountain Overlay District, which prohibits development on land that exceeds 25 percent slope angle. Ongoing discussions between the developers and the county Planning and Zoning Department have resolved the boundary's location on the ranch, Cove Springs attorney Marty Flannes told county P&Z Commissioners on Thursday.

"There are no MOD (Mountain Overlay District) boundary issues between applicant and staff," he said.

Since the project's application was submitted before the development of current maps for the district, determination of its boundaries on the property relies on text descriptions in the zoning ordinance. The county's interpretation had the district's boundary cutting across some of Cove Springs' proposed building lots, which would have decreased the amount of available land the developers could build on. But the developers agreed to shift the footprints of three proposed building sites to keep those lots downhill from the district's boundary, said Brian Yeager of Galena Engineering, a consultant for the developers.

County Planning Director Tom Bergin's assessment of the disagreement isn't as quite as absolute. On Monday, Bergin said that while mountain overlay issues nearer to Gannett Road have been resolved, those related to proposed lots farther inside the Cove are still "being evaluated."

Thursday's P&Z meeting saw a number of other issues raised related to a revised application to develop the ranch, five miles south of Bellevue.

Among those is a recent request by the Idaho Department of Lands that it be allowed access across Cove Ranch to reach 19 state-owned parcels mixed in with U.S. Bureau of Land Management property to the north, south and east of the ranch. Flannes described the department's tone as "stern" when it requested access across the ranch's private lands.

Tim Dufner, the department's South Central Area manager, said the department manages 19 parcels of state land, totaling 1,600 acres, surrounding the ranch,. He said the department would like to maintain access primarily for fire protection and for future leaseholders.

Flannes clearly didn't relish the department's appeal for access.

"That's a huge request," he said.

The most notable change in the new Cove Springs application is that it eliminates most of the original 300-plus lots envisioned for the portion of the ranch known as "the Cove." Under the revised application, just 24 "estate" and "equestrian" lots are proposed for that portion of the ranch. The building sites on those lots—which would range from 17 to 295 acres in size—would be limited to a strict one-acre building envelope.

Hailey resident Bill Hughes, who attended many of the meetings during the first round of Cove Springs hearings back in 2007, praised the decision to pull most of the lots out of the Cove. However, Hughes still expressed opposition to the new development plan, citing the placement of the remaining lots in "prime habitat."

"Estate lots to me are the antithesis of proper planning," he said.

The new Cove Springs application replaces an earlier version that the Blaine County Commission rejected in October 2007. That led the developers to sue the county in January 2008, claiming the commissioners had improperly denied their development application.

Last summer, the county and the Cove Springs developers reached an agreement that put the current application process in motion. The county P&Z will resume its Cove Springs deliberations on Thursday, Feb. 12, at 6:30 p.m. at the Old Blaine Courthouse in Hailey.

The County Commission will have the final say on the development plan.

Jason Kauffman:

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