Friday, January 6, 2012

Hilltop building could be allowed in Camas County

Residents protest proposed changes


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Construction next to this home on property six miles east of Fairfield was brought to a halt by court order last summer. The new building is alleged to be in violation of the Camas County’s prohibition of building on hilltop skylines. Courtesy photo.

A plan to eliminate restrictions on building on ridge tops in Camas County met with public opposition Tuesday at a meeting of the county's Planning and Zoning Commission.

The county Planning Department presented a draft ordinance Tuesday that would lift the restrictions, allowing building on hilltops.

For 10 years, a Camas County ordinance has prohibited buildings on hilltops to preserve skyline views from roadways.

That law, which provides exemptions for ranchers and farmers because of their importance to the local economy, was tested when a building six miles east of Fairfield was started last summer on property belonging to Boise resident Merlyn Colpron. A temporary restraining order was issued last summer by 5th District Judge Robert Elgee to stop construction of the building, which was allegedly permitted in violation of the hillside ordinance.

Since Elgee handed down his decision, county Planning Administrator Dwight Butlin and county attorney Paul Fitzer drafted a new ordinance that would allow for Copron's building to proceed. It would strike out language that prohibits buildings with silhouettes that could be seen on hillside skylines by motorists, unless all possible means of relocating the building elsewhere have been exhausted.

But a group of about 10 residents spoke against the proposed change Tuesday, presenting an ordinance of their own that would instead further restrict hilltop building.

"We want to keep our ridgelines natural and open to wildlife," county resident Leigh Betty said in an interview. "We like the ordinance that has been in place since 2001."

"If the new ordinance passes, they [Camas residents] will be able to build 35-foot buildings on hilltops," said Bill Cimino, who has organized opposition to the proposed ordinance, hiring Ketchum attorney Michael Pogue to fight it.

Cimino owns a home near Colpron's controversial project, and said he brought the matter to the attention of Butlin. However, Butlin said in an interview last summer that he didn't think the construction violated the ordinance.

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Butlin said in a recent interview that he helped draft the new ordinance to eliminate the unfairness that results from the current ordinance's exemption for ranchers and farmers, as well as for subdivision developers.

"I initiated it because there appears to be a conflict in the ordinance. It allows some people to develop and others not to," he said.

Butlin said he is not aware of any ranchers or farmers who have applied for permits for buildings on hilltops.

During the meeting Tuesday, three people spoke in favor of the county's proposed ordinance.

Ed Reagan, the editor and publisher of the Courier News in Fairfield, attended the meeting.

"It appears that the administrator [Butlin] made an honest boo-boo in issuing the permit, without looking at whether the building was going to 'skyline' or not," Reagan said. "Now the question is, do you correct this by rescinding the permit? That has legal ramifications. Or do you take a risk and see if we can change the ordinance to see if we can allow this gentleman [Colpron] to do what he wants to do?"

Reagan said the new ordinance could eventually change the look of the area, as development picks up.

"If we had a building boom going on over here, it could have impacts visually, but right at the moment I don't know that it's going to have that much of an impact," he said.

Butlin said he assumes that the P&Z will consider the alternative ordinance presented by Betty.

A new ordinance of any kind would have to be approved by the county commissioners, following a recommendation the P&Z.

The P&Z will deliberate on the proposed change at a public meeting Tuesday, Feb 7., at 7 p.m. at the Fairfield Senior Center.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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