Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Quigley annexation should be approved

Doug Brown is executive director of the Wood River Economic Partnership.


I have sat through many Hailey City Council meetings at which the Quigley Canyon project and the property's annexation into the city were discussed by the council, the developer, various experts and the public. There have been sincere concerns voiced by opponents of the project with regard to infrastructure, loss of recreation opportunities, potential changes in wildlife habitat and the possibility of costs' being ultimately borne by current taxpayers. These concerns, while sincere, are the concerns attached to any type of growth. They have been anticipated and, in my opinion, dealt with appropriately by the developer as the project has evolved. I will not summarize these measures here.

On the other hand, I would like to emphasize that the city has an obligation to plan for the future. Hailey's population is predicted to grow substantially over the next 10-20 years. If well-conceived, planned growth such as that proposed in the Quigley Canyon project is consistently rejected, a lack of housing to meet growing demand could turn Hailey's residential market into one like Ketchum's, where prices have escalated to the point that working families cannot afford to live there. We have had a large taste of that in the last five years and it has taught us that a healthy community needs price diversity in its housing.

The city also has to realize that Quigley is private property and deal with it as such. It is not a park or wildlife refuge and the fact that the developer has been willing to incorporate a great deal of open space, wildlife habitat and public access is commendable and desirable. To say that we will give up zero wildlife habitat to accommodate development, despite the millions of pristine acres surrounding us, is to condemn Hailey to a future of inflated values for existing housing and, ultimately, to a town without a population of working families.

The city has gone to great lengths to understand the costs and infrastructure needs associated with this project and is negotiating with the developer to make the best deal possible for the citizens of Hailey. This is appropriate. But if the city presses too hard, the developer can't make a profit commensurate with the risk and the goose that lays the golden eggs will be dead. Conversely, the developer cannot demand more than the city can responsibly offer or the goose is equally dead. Both are lose-lose situations.

Quigley Canyon Ranch offers a well-planned, denser neighborhood that allows it to be surrounded by open space and amenities that can be shared by the homeowners and the public. Those include an 18-hole golf course, a Nordic center and well-maintained trail system for skiers and hikers, and a restaurant. This approach to development is unprecedented in our region!

A few opponents compare this project to Sweetwater and Old Cutters. This is like comparing apples and oranges, as neither of these projects offers anything approaching the publicly accessible amenities or preservation of open space that is contemplated at Quigley Canyon. The city must evaluate this project on its own merits.

A timely side benefit of approving this project is the jobs it will create—estimated to be 500 per year for 10-15 years. That is huge at any time, but in this time of economic hardship and struggling working families, it is crucial. People are moving out. People are losing their homes in record numbers because they can't pay their mortgages, often because one or two of the family wage earners are not working.

The Hailey City Council has an opportunity to help the community in the short term by creating jobs and in the long term by bringing in a neighborhood and amenities that will make residents proud for many decades.

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