Friday, November 12, 2010

East Fork subdivision raises eyebrows

Opponents say plan would limit access to public trails


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A large home on the Jaspar Ranch northeast of Triumph, shown here, may become only one of several in the area if property owner Jann Wenner’s subdivision application is approved by the county. One concern is that the subdivision may limit access to public lands that can only be accessed via an easement on Wenner’s property.

Winter parking at the popular Hyndman Creek trailhead near Triumph could be reduced if a pending subdivision application is approved by the county during a hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 16.

Property owner Jann Wenner's subdivision application is for the creation of three lots on the 162-acre Jasper Ranch, on both sides of Hyndman Creek Road about three miles past Triumph.

The property allows public access to the Pioneer Mountains via a U.S. Forest Service easement on the road. A planning staff report on the application, which was presented before the Blaine County Commission on Nov. 2, states that it proposes a reduction of parking in a plowed area near Wenner's house (though square-footage numbers in the report indicate the opposite).

The road and parking area are used by backcountry skiers and snowshoers heading to the Pioneer yurt.

"The Pioneers in general are really popular, and this is the most popular access point," said Brett Stevenson, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Idaho Conservation League.

Public access along the road is guaranteed through the easement, but both the public and county staff have expressed concerns that the proposed parking area will not be adequate.

Currently, the parking easement at the site measures 7,500 square feet. Sun Valley Trekking owner Joe St. Onge said that area is too small.

"It's not uncommon for hut users to be coming in five or six cars," St. Onge said. "Parking is not nearly adequate."

St. Onge stated in an e-mail to county planner Shana Sweitzer that Wenner has moved the parking area over the years and put in boulders to reduce the amount of parking available. The boulders are easily visible from the road southwest of Wenner's house, and limit the amount of parking to roughly five mid-sized cars.

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"The designated area is often too small on busy weekends," the e-mail reads. "Users often have to walk with skis or drive snow machines over half a mile ... to access unplowed snow across the bridge."

St. Onge added at the meeting that this area could easily be filled with four trucks pulling snowmobile trailers.

The staff report submitted for commissioner consideration proposes two parking areas: the original 7,500-square-foot easement as well as a secondary overflow area near the snowplow turnaround.

Wenner's representative, Brian Yeager, said Wenner never had any thought of limiting public access to the trail.

"The owners feel they are offering something to the county with this product," Yeager said.

"We equally view this area as an important area," said attorney Gary Slette, another representative for Wenner.

Slette said the public parking easement has been plowed and kept open by Wenner and the property's caretakers.

"I don't want to be cavalier and say no good deed goes unpunished," he said.

Despite this, Commissioner Larry Schoen said he found access to be inadequate during a recent site visit.

"Even in the fall with no snow, there was not enough room for vehicles to pass," Schoen said. "What is being proposed is not adequate."

Other issues of concern include conservation. Wenner's property contains elk winter habitat as well as habitat for important native species. Stevenson said the Idaho Conservation League is concerned about future development in the area that might harm wildlife habitat.

The hearing on Nov. 2 was continued to Nov. 16 due to extensive public comment. The commissioners will reconsider the application at 2:30 p.m. at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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