Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Quigley plan needs work

Council asks for reduced housing densities to protect wildlife

Express Staff Writer

A developer's request to annex 1,109 acres of Quigley Canyon into the city of Hailey continues to move toward compromise with those concerned with wildlife preservation in the upper reaches of the canyon east of Hailey. A standing-room-only meeting at City Hall last week resulted in a request by the City Council that developer David Hennessy further reduce housing densities in Deadman Gulch and above Quigley Pond.

Annexation into the city would permit development of the proposed 379 residential lots at about three times the density allowed under the current Blaine County zoning, and allow hook-up to city water and sewer. In return, the developer would provide considerable public amenities, including a golf course and Nordic skiing trails.

In August, the Hailey P&Z recommended approval of the annexation with 54 conditions. At last week's Hailey City Council meeting, a public hearing was held to discuss four of those conditions opposed by the applicant. Two prohibit development in Deadman Gulch and east of Quigley Pond due to wildlife concerns, one requires a secondary road for emergency-vehicle access and the fourth limits lot size to one-half acre.

Last month, Hennessy agreed to reduce the originally proposed 54 homes in the two areas to 52, and said, "This plan was made to reduce wildlife impacts."

Speaking at Thursday's council meeting, Jerome Hanson, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional habitat manager, thanked the applicant for his efforts, but said, "From day one we have had concerns about Quigley. Some 400 mule deer winter in the canyons. This plan isn't as good as we wish it could be. There are still a fair number of homes in Deadman Gulch. Deadman is really important."

Councilwoman Martha Burke suggested that the large "estate" lots requested by the developer be permitted, but that building envelopes be limited to one-half acre and the lots remain unfenced to allow wildlife movement. In an interview, Burke said the best option for the wildlife there would be no development at all, but that development under county zoning could be more harmful than clustered development under an agreement with Hailey.

"It might be five-acre, fenced parcels," she said.

During the meeting, Burke said density should be closer to town.

"I'm not willing to sacrifice game," she said. "It's a moral issue."

Some see the proposed development as an economic boon to the city. Hailey businessman Rob Cronin urged the council to approve the project and annexation as quickly as possible.

"I am 100 percent in favor of this project," he said. "We are in the midst of the perfect economic storm and we need to get moving on this now."

Commenting on a concern expressed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game regarding a potential loss of wildlife habitat and migration corridors, Cronin said, "Quigley Canyon is not the Serengeti."

Longtime resident and acclaimed wildlife artist Mary Roberson had a contrary opinion.

"Not only are we pushing our wildlife away, we're pushing away our peace of mind. It's not worth it," she said.

Lynn Kincannon, longtime environmental activist and Central Idaho director of the Idaho Conservation League, said she was speaking for the first time as a private citizen.

"We're pushing wildlife further and further away," she said. "Local residents have been polled and their first priority is for affordable housing and their second is for the wildlife. And developments like this impact the wildlife."

Deerfield resident Katherine Graves called the skiing and golfing amenities that would come with the development "fabulous."

"Someday someone will develop this," she said.

Not surprisingly, members of the City Council reflected the diverse perspectives of the citizens they represent.

Councilman Fritz Haemmerele said, "I used to play in Elkhorn as a child and I wish it had stayed that way, but you cannot stop development."

Though Haemmerle has said he would like to see less density in the development, he has expressed disagreement with the conditions prohibiting development in Deadman Gulch and above Quigley pond.

"It's private property," he said, "not legacy land."

Councilman Don Keirn said the Wood River Valley's wildlife record during the past 10 years had been "abysmal."

"If we can work this out I would not like to see anything above the pond," he said. "This winter range is unique and I want to see the animals protected. The city ought to look like city and the county ought to look like county."

Mayor Rick Davis indicated that there was no debate, just questions about the project.

"I don't want this in the county because the city will only reap impacts and none of the benefits," he said.

The next hearings on the Quigley Canyon annexation request will be held on April 6 and April 28.

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