The Hailey City Council expressed a unanimous desire Monday to protect from development—and provide public access to—153 acres of cottonwood forest and river frontage that stretches from Heagle Park to Colorado Gulch.
The City Council will invite members of the public to a July 11 site visit to the property, which has been fenced off-limits by the owner since March 2010.
"This is the most beautiful property out there that could benefit the city," said Councilwoman Martha Burke.
"I was heartbroken when it was closed off," said Councilwoman Carol Brown.
The council is considering future annexation of about 22 acres on the bench above the river property for a 55-unit housing development, in exchange for public access to the low-lying property in perpetuity.
Developer Jeff Pfaeffle and his partner Grant Stevens were denied annexation of the entire 175 acres, known as Colorado Gulch Preserve, last year. Stevens then made good on a promise to fence the property and keep out trespassers when the city denied the annexation.
The annexation would have resulted in a 90-unit development on the 22-acre bench property on the west side of Broadford Road, a diversion of the existing river trail to Broadford Road, and the future development of at least one homesite near the Big Wood River.
The developers are not requesting annexation at this time, but want some assurance that the city would be amenable to annexation in the future.
Pfaeffle's latest proposal calls for a memorandum of understanding with the council that guarantees the city would eventually annex the bench property, allowing for a density of 2.6 units per acre. This would allow for 55 housing units on the bench along Broadford Road, about three times the amount allowed currently under county zoning.
Pfaeffle said the memorandum would provide a "level of comfort" that would allow him to move forward with the Wood River Land Trust, which has expressed an interest in raising funds to purchase the 153 acres and open it to public access.
"We are very interested in continuing discussion about how to preserve this property," said Wood River Land Trust Stewardship Coordinator Keri York at Monday's meeting.
Pfaeffle's attorney Jim Laski said the developer also hopes to establish an agreement with the city by July 14, in time to meet a deadline to apply for funding from the Blaine County Levy Advisory Board to help ensure public access to the river front property.
"This opportunity is here because of the Levy Board," said Laski.
Hailey resident Peter Lobb pointed out to the council that almost all of the riverfront property is in the floodplain and therefore not developable.
"It's of little use to developers," Lobb said.
City Attorney Ned Williamson described the site visit as "awkward" and delayed it long enough to meet noticing requirements, should the city move forward with consideration of annexation.
Ordinarily, the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission would review an annexation agreement before the city council would.
Kathie Barfuss and William Miles, two landowners whose property lies between the proposed development and the city, protested the annexation request last year because they would have been force-annexed into the city under the plan.
Miles was at the Monday meeting. He spoke out against the site visit and any consideration of annexation.
"All of the reasons this was previously denied still exist," he said.
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org