Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cold Springs zoning plan misguided


I am very concerned by the recent approval by the Blaine County commissioners to significantly expand allowable building densities on the triangle south of the St. Luke’s hospital stoplight between Highway 75 and Broadway Run. Despite objections by virtually everyone attending the meeting, and recommendations by their own P&Z Commission to decrease zoning densities in this area, the commissioners approved a plan that could create a high-density development of up to 580 homes and a population of about 1,300 residents in the rural mid-valley region between Ketchum and Hailey.

Increased densities would significantly degrade an important scenic and wildlife corridor and gateway to Ketchum, and violate virtually every precept of modern urban planning. Creating high-density development in an area untethered to the critical infrastructure necessary to support such development, including schools, fire, police, water, sewer and basic retail service, makes no sense. These types of projects should be concentrated in the cities of Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue.

Under the original underlying zoning laws, the 46 acres in question could be developed with a density of one unit per acre, or 46 single-family units. Under the approved change, average building density could be as high as 12.6 units per acre, a density much greater than what one would find in the Woodside area south of Hailey. As one point of reference, the Meadows Mobile Home Park, just south of the area, is zoned for 5.4 units per acre.

Of the 580 potential units, less than 120 would be deed-restricted community housing units. The balance would be market-rate housing.

I am also unclear as to the true objective of creating high-density housing in this triangle, other than making numerous concessions to the development community to encourage the construction of a few community deed-restricted housing units. In addition to higher densities, the proposal would reduce the percentage of units per acre that need to be designated for community housing, reduce off-street parking requirements and offer to the developers existing open space along the Blaine County Recreation District trail, thereby reducing the open space requirements for new development. This is not the best approach to increasing the number of community housing units in the Wood River Valley or to improving the overall quality of living in the area.

This area is already proximate to a number of mobile-home parks providing affordable housing to lower-income residents. I am fully supportive of these existing developments. I drive by every day and see vibrant communities in these parks. They serve an import purpose in providing lower-cost housing for local residents. 

To implement the new zoning plan as approved by the commissioners would be a step backward in long-term land-use planning for the Wood River Valley and is completely inappropriate with the rural character of the surrounding region.

David Woodward lives in Ketchum.

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