Wednesday, December 14, 2011

County to revise Mountain Overlay District

Changes could open Cold Springs area to development

Express Staff Writer

The area above St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center known as the Cold Springs Bench, above, could be opened to development under county regulations. Photo by Mountain Express

Potential modifications to Blaine County's Mountain Overlay District could open up to development about 40 acres of land behind St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center.

On Monday, county commissioners began examining sites that could be removed from the district. Reasons for removal include mapping errors from the computer software used to define the district, because the district boundaries split a property or because the land identified is out of Blaine County's jurisdiction.

"It would essentially result in a redrawing of the map," Commissioner Larry Schoen said during the meeting.

The Mountain Overlay District is an area surrounding the developed areas of the Wood River Valley that has been determined to be unsuitable for development due to the land's steep slope. The district was defined by former county Planner Jeff Adams using computer mapping software.

Citing avalanche concerns, infrastructure issues and difficulty of emergency response, county ordinance prohibits development within the district unless a property owner can cite sufficient reason to obtain an exemption. Removing land from the district would open it up to development.

Though the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission identified 45 sites that could be considered for exclusion from the district, the board focused mainly on an undeveloped bench west of the hospital in the lower Cold Springs drainage. Four property owners would be affected.

Known as the Cold Springs Bench, the area has been considered for development since creation of a master plan for the McHanville area south of Ketchum in 2009. It is included in the county's Community Housing Overlay District, which means a certain portion of any development must include income-based housing.

The bench was included within the Mountain Overlay District because it is in a canyon that narrows to 500 feet at the mouth, a limitation that prompted the computer mapping software to close it off to development. Commissioner Tom Bowman said software shouldn't determine the county's decision-making, and the commissioners should rely more on site visits to the areas in question.

"It doesn't inform our process," he said. "We've all been up there. [The area] didn't lend itself to the suggestion that they were hillside slopes."

As a result, Bowman proposed redrawing the district to exclude that bench, despite the Planning and Zoning Commission's recommendation against it.

Attorney Jim Phillips, representing property owners in Deer Creek north of Hailey, urged the commissioners to consider excluding not only the Cold Springs Bench, but all similar areas that were included in the district due to computer mapping.

"It's flat ground," he said. "It's been determined that way by site inspection. Given available data, you should consider ... removing those from the Mountain Overlay [District]."

The commissioners also considered a recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Commission that the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley be removed from the district. Though much of the land behind the shelter near Hailey is on a grade and runs into a canyon, the P&Z ruled that the shelter could be excluded based on the land's use for an "overriding public purpose." Similar exemptions were recommended for the Ohio Gulch Waste Transfer Station, the nearby motocross park and the Carey transfer station.

County commissioners agreed to conduct site visits of the remaining sites that were suggested for district changes in preparation for a continued hearing. Bowman, who drew proposed new district lines, has already conducted many of the site visits.

The county will continue the public hearing on changing the district's boundaries on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 1:30 p.m. at the old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

Katherine Wutz:

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