Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Resort pulls comp plan application

Angry Wally Huffman says city should ‘get your act together’

Express Staff Writer

Wally Huffman

Frustration, jubilation and surprise punctuated a multi-year process in Sun Valley as Sun Valley Co. abruptly withdrew its application for changes to the city's comprehensive plan Thursday.

Wally Huffman, Sun Valley Co.'s director of resorts and resort development, scolded city officials during a City Council meeting, saying the review and approval process is broken, resulting in a huge expense to the company, conflicting direction about how to proceed and a lack of progress after years of effort.

"From a user point of view, your process is flawed," he said.

Sun Valley Co. was requesting revisions to the text of the 2005 comprehensive plan update and the land-use designation of the future land-use map as they apply to Sun Valley Co. land. The Planning & Zoning Commission recommended approval of the application this summer after making suggested changes to parts of the application.

Huffman's announcement of the withdrawal of the application prompted cheers from those in attendance. Since the issue came before the council this summer, large groups of residents have come out against the application, saying requested changes are too big a departure from the city's comprehensive plan and should be looked at more in conjunction with that document.

"As far as I'm concerned, we're wasting our time here," Huffman said. "If it helps the process, we withdraw the entire application. But this city, please, get your act together. This is not a fair process. We're not here trying to get anything out of the city, or out of the people in this city. What we tried to do in anticipation of moving forward the zoning process based upon the plan that we submitted to you in 2004 was to clean up the comp plan so we could then come back to you with the zoning ordinance."

He said Sun Valley Co. will not be doing that now.

"It's too painful, it's too expensive and we're pretty happy with the zoning ordinances that we have now," he said.

An angry Huffman exited council chambers, putting an end to deliberations that council members had just begun.

Councilman Bob Youngman agreed about the need for change.

"It's clear that our process is broken," he said. "We need to do something as a council about how this type of, any type, of comp plan amendment or rezoning is handled."

The process for land-use planning and zoning is dictated to a large extent by state law, Mayor Wayne Willich said in an interview. The city can address issues only within the confines of those statutes.

However, he said, "inside that process, yes, there are some things we can do."

The council discussed increasing communication with constituents, many of whom are not in town for weeks or months each year.

"I think communication is a key thing," Councilman Nils Ribi said. "I think the city has got to step up to the plate and start using more technology ... in getting information out."

Councilwoman Joan Lamb, who served on the Planning and Zoning Commission, said that although the approval process could be improved, it is designed to bring contrary opinions to the fore, and so will never be entirely harmonious.

"There is a divergence of views, and the process is intended to bring those out and have everyone have a chance to air them," she said. "I think really that's the issue more so than the process. There is a reason why it's not perfect."

She said blame shouldn't fall on city staff.

"I feel very comfortable that our staff did everything that they should have done the way they should have done it," she said.

Willich said he hopes to appoint members to a committee to review the 2005 comprehensive plan. Such plans typically are updated every 10 years but can be reviewed and changed any time.

The committee would solicit public input through special hearings and then make recommendations to the council.

Huffman, however, said in an interview that Sun Valley Co., which is owned by Earl and Carol Holding, would not be part of that committee.

"There was a real effort ... to make (the current comp plan) as consistent with Mr. Holding's vision as possible," Huffman said. "That was mostly accomplished. I would be hard pressed to give that up."

The company's latest effort has been another step toward codifying that vision. Getting land rezoned, Huffman said, has been a painfully slow process.

"It's like a feather falling through a cold jar of molasses," he said.

Councilman Dewayne Briscoe said the application may have been too far-reaching to be dealt with outside of a review of the comprehensive plan.

"I believe our problem started perhaps with the application process where the applicant wanted perhaps significant and numerous changes to the 2005 comprehensive plan," he said. "There was a consensus of the community that with this many changes and the ramifications, that this should go back to the overall review of the comp plan, which is scheduled probably in three more years but should be moved up."

An update of the comprehensive plan has been on the city's priority list for several years.

"We're going to move it to the top," Willich said. "Maybe you need a crisis to occur to say OK, now we're doing it."

Rebecca Meany:

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