Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cove Springs gets P&Z blessing

Development application now heads to Blaine County Commission

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission has unanimously recommended approval of a revised development application for the 4,630-acre Cove Ranch. The application now moves to the Blaine County Commission, which will have the final say. Photo by Mountain Express

The Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended approval of a revised application to develop a portion of the 4,630-acre Cove Ranch five miles south of Bellevue.

The application now heads to the Blaine County Commission, which will have the final say on the development application. A previous application to develop the ranch was rejected by the county, which led to a protracted court battle and, ultimately, a mediated agreement between the county and the Cove Springs developers. The agreement stated that the developers would come up with a revised application that the county would then consider.

The new Cove Springs application most notably pulls 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 range from 17 to 295 acres, would be limited to one-acre envelopes.

The recommendation from the P&Z Thursday also applies to an application to rezone the northern portion of the ranch closer to Bellevue to allow for future residential development.

"We are very pleased that P&Z has unanimously approved our applications," Cove Springs President Steve Beavers said in a prepared statement. "Agriculture will be permanently protected on the ranch and the majority of the density will be shifted out of the Cove."

One longstanding dispute between the county and the Cove Springs developers that had threatened to throw the application into limbo again has been fixed, both sides have said. According to Blaine County Planning Director Tom Bergin, issues involving the location of the county's Mountain Overlay District in relation to the development's proposed lots have been resolved.

The earlier dispute had to with delineating areas on Cove Ranch that should be considered off-limits to development because of their inclusion in the Mountain Overlay District, which prohibits development on slopes that exceed 25 percent.

"All of the proposed building envelopes are below the Mountain Overlay District line," Bergin said.

The Cove Springs developers say their new development plan for the large rural ranch should please wildlife advocates. Conservationists and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game roundly criticized the previous version, which would have placed hundreds of lots in the Cove.

The original application envisioned a 307-lot subdivision on the property.

The new plan will remove cattle grazing from 3,035 acres, or nearly three-quarters of the ranch. And because restrictions will prohibit individual homeowners from fencing anything but their immediate homesite, wildlife will have free range on the ranch's open grasslands, Beavers said.

In the coming years, the developers also plan to conduct habitat restoration projects along stream banks and on other locations of the ranch.

Though it will depend on the speed with which the County Commission considers the revised application, the developers said they hope to begin Phase 1 of the project later this year.

Bergin said the commission is tentatively scheduled to begin consideration of the applications in early April.

Jason Kauffman:

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