Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lane Ranch North developers try to assuage wildlife concerns

Express Staff Writer

Initial support for a revised Lane Ranch North project in Sun Valley was tempered last week by concerns raised by some members of the public and City Council.

The City Council continued a public hearing March 27 on applicant Ponascea LLC's applications related to a proposed four-lot development of land east of and adjacent to Weyyakin subdivision, bordered on the south by Elkhorn Road and Lane Ranch subdivision.

The five applications property owner Peter O'Neill submitted for the project are for an amendment to the comprehensive plan's Future Land Use Map, a zoning map amendment, a master plan development, a subdivision preliminary plat and development agreement.

County resident Karen Reinheimer voiced concern about the development's potential impact to wildlife.

"This particular parcel, this entrance to Sun Valley, was and I think still is, deeply, deeply cherished by many," she said. "The way I consider the backside of Dollar [Mountain] is sort of like a nursery. It is a ... thoroughfare for the wildlife. Where is this wildlife going to go? Through Weyyakin? Through this development? I would say this is one of the most pristine areas left, this backside, which is really a sanctuary for wildlife."

Sun Valley resident William Hardy said the land's current, undeveloped status should remain.

"I just don't think it needs to be developed now," he said.

Lane Ranch North was initially envisioned 10 years ago as a seven-lot subdivision. It has been downsized to four lots in its current incarnation. Wildlife concerns also have been addressed, said project attorney Gary Slette.

"We believe we've been responsive to the wildlife issues," he said. "We think we have done exactly what your comp plan says, [that] is, rely upon Fish and Game information for the determination of where those critical wildlife areas are."

Project owners commissioned a conservation plan to further analyze the impacts, he said. "Clearly, I think the preservation of 150 acres out of 166 as totally undisturbed, totally available for any wildlife passage is an evidence of [O'Neill's] commitment to what he's doing," he said. "We want the wildlife to remain there."

Councilman Nils Ribi said he could support the project if two of the lots were removed, based on his reading of the special sites portion of city ordinance, particularly regarding impacts to ridgelines.

"It doesn't meet the special sites portion of our ordinance," he said.

Councilman Bob Youngman countered that development might have to be prohibited on the other lots, if Ribi's argument is taken to its logical conclusion. Developers have, he said, taken strides to preserve major ridges.

But did they do a reasonable job in protecting the sites?

"It becomes an area of discretion for the council," Mark Hofman, community development director, said in an interview.

The council approved a resolution changing the comprehensive plan as it pertains to that area, from recreational to low-density residential. That change, however, only means single-family homes can be envisioned in that area.

"What is doesn't say is, anywhere up there," Hofman said. "It's only a vision, a guide."

The project's other four applications would dictate where the houses can go, as well as other details.

The council continued the hearing to April 10.

Rebecca Meany:

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