Friday, March 5, 2010

Annexations can protect open space


Scott Boettger is the executive director of the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust.

By SCOTT BOETTGER

With the downturn in our economy, we continue to hear how important it is to diversify our opportunities for growth. But in the rush for new growth we shouldn't lose sight of what makes this valley special. We also need to plan for the protection of water, wildlife and recreational opportunities that set this valley apart and will ultimately hasten our recovery.

In a recent study, analysis showed that Coloradans reap roughly $6 in benefits for every $1 invested in efforts to keep agricultural land and other open spaces from being developed. Additionally, John Swartout, executive director of the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, said that Colorado can't offer the kind of financial incentives other states can to attract businesses. "I think the beauty of this state and preserving what we call quality-of-life investments is an economic driver," he said.

While I realize every state is different, Idaho is similarly situated to Colorado—in at least geography, beauty, agriculture and recreation—and the Wood River Valley also needs to look at open space protection as an economic driver.

Annexations, planned properly, can actually protect open space, provide for smart sustainable growth, and enhance the very things we all value in our valley. Annexations are one of the few ways city officials can provide incentives for landowners to do what's best for all. By providing density in areas where future development is most sustainable, officials can also require other lands (such as wildlife habitat, greenways, floodplains and areas that provide for recreation) are protected. These dedications should be more than just what is not developable (or left over) but include areas that add to the overall enjoyment and livability of our communities.

We need to look beyond our current condition and take this opportunity to plan for a better tomorrow. The current Colorado Gulch Preserve annexation request is a perfect example of how we can plan for a more sustainable tomorrow.

All planners are taught that if you want to protect open space, you need to encourage density. When you look around this valley, you will quickly see that there are many places we would all like to see protected, but it is more difficult to identify areas acceptable or appropriate for future development. I am a big proponent of infill (developing or re-developing existing vacant lots in the cities) but to develop these sites beyond their currently zoned densities is fraught with controversy.

Similarly, rezones in the county are also difficult and financially taxing. We are left with annexations as the only real alternative for future growth in this valley. That is why it is important that city officials look at annexation requests as their best opportunities to plan not just for growth, but also for protection of the things that make this valley such a special place to call home.

I encourage you all to support the upcoming Colorado Gulch Preserve annexation Monday night in Hailey. The plan is the "smartest" I have seen in the valley, providing for future compact growth on a small portion (less than 10 percent) of the property, while protecting and providing public access to over one-half mile of invaluable Big Wood River frontage.




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