Friday, April 24, 2009

Sun Valley P&Z denies DeNovo

Many show up to voice dissent

Express Staff Writer

DeNovo Properties suffered a setback on Tuesday to its plans to develop a 15-home subdivision on the hills above Elkhorn.

In a meeting attended by nearly 100 residents, the Sun Valley Planning and Zoning Commission voted 3-1 to recommend that the City Council deny DeNovo's request that the city add 428 acres of the company's property in Independence Gulch to its future land-use map. The request was the first step toward annexation of the property.

"The main reason for denial was that the development was putting people in harm's way," Commissioner Ken Herich said.

He explained that the plan would increase the public's exposure to wildfires and create unreasonable response times for fire, EMS and police.

"It was creating a development that was just not accessible to existing firefighting equipment, and they [DeNovo] failed to convince the commission that the development satisfied the spirit of the hillside ordinance," Herich said.

DeNovo was proposing lots on slopes ranging between zero and 25 percent grade. Sun Valley's hillside ordinances prohibit most development on slopes between 15 and 20 percent, and in all cases on slopes of 25 percent or more.

DeNovo had purchased 848 acres of land just north of Triumph in October. The property spans both sides of the ridge that separates Sun Valley from the East Fork of the Big Wood River. DeNovo plans to set aside 85 percent of the property for conservation and recreation while developing 15 homesites on the northwest section of the property.

The commission's recommendation was in line with objections made by residents and department leaders who were present at the meeting.

Sun Valley Fire Chief Jeff Carnes voiced strong opposition to the plan, citing the steep grade of the access road. Carnes said he prefers grades of no more than 10 percent for straight roads and 7 percent for curved roads. DeNovo's proposal has roads of up to 12 percent.

"I know my fire truck won't get up there," Carnes said.

Additionally, Carnes said the proposed development's location is one that is prone to wildfires. He speculated that a fire starting in the canyon would reach the ridge within 20 minutes.

"You have a real dangerous situation there, and I don't know how you would mitigate that," Carnes said.

Bill Murphy, fire management officer for the Ketchum Ranger District and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, concurred.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game also voiced strong opposition to the development. In a letter submitted to the city, the department noted that the Independence Gulch area is year-round habitat for wildlife that includes elk, mule deer and most recently the Phantom Hill wolf pack.

"This is one of the last remaining and unfragmented pieces of habitat for winter elk," said Mike McDonald, a staff biologist for the department's Magic Valley Region. "Development would reduce the quality and quantity of land, disrupt seasonal movements and migrations and displace wildlife."

Commissioners will create a more detailed draft outlining the reasons for the denial. The draft will be reviewed later in May before being submitted to the Sun Valley City Council for consideration.

Brian Pitkin, co-founder and CEO of DeNovo, remained optimistic.

"We are disappointed in the commission's recommendation, but we certainly still look forward to presenting our plan and meeting with council," Pitkin said.

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