Friday, January 3, 2014

South valley began to rebound from recession

Fire and court cases posed challenges

Express Staff Writer

2012 Days of the Old West Senior Queen Elizabeth Lockyer carries the colors before the Family Night July 2 Hailey rodeo. Photo by Willy Cook

    Despite a devastating fire and ongoing challenges to the collection of annexation fees, the south valley cities continued to dig out of the recession in 2013. Many new businesses hung out shingles, and building permits were up in Hailey and Bellevue.
    The Beaver Creek Fire came dangerously close to Hailey in August. Trees burst into flames on Carbonate Mountain for several days and firefighters fought a running battle to save homes in Croy Canyon.
    All hell seemed to break lose on a Saturday morning at 3 a.m. when Hotshot fire crews used torches to light brush on the west side of Croy Canyon Bridge, and launched incendiary canisters across the Big Wood River onto the bottom of Carbonate Mountain.
    Flames shot 300 feet up the steep, east-facing slope of the mountain, lighting up west Hailey and sending some Hailey residents into a panic. The sound of burning brush and trees could be heard five blocks away on Third Avenue in old Hailey.
    For the next few days, many Hailey residents who had not left town biked and hiked north along the bike path to view the action at the fire camp along Buttercup Road.

New construction in Hailey
    New construction projects doubled in Hailey during 2013, and were up about the same amount in Bellevue. Hailey’s local option tax revenues increased in 2013 over 2012 despite the devastating Beaver Creek Fire.
    November election results in both Hailey and Bellevue signaled strong support for city council incumbents.
    Hailey Community Development Director Micah Austin oversaw the launch of an urban renewal district expected to bring in millions in revenue over the next 20 years for public improvements.
    O’Reilly Auto Parts broke ground at the south end of Hailey, and Hailey Ice announced in November that the organization had raised more than $1.1 million, enough to break ground on its long-awaited ice rink.
    Hailey also saw numerous small businesses open along Main Street, as the inventory of vacant commercial space decreased, signaling what appeared to be a continued turnaround in the local economy.
    Wood shingle roofs were prohibited and a voluntary “green” building code went mandatory. The city also adopted a bee-keeping ordinance.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
    After four years in captivity, captured soldier Bowe Bergdahl became for a brief period last summer a major player in expected negotiations between the U.S. and his Taliban captors. As Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to the Gulf nation of Qatar to negotiate with the Taliban, a major publicity event was held to “Bring Bowe Home” at Hop Porter Park in Hailey, attended by politicians and Bergdahl’s parents.
    Despite the enthusiasm and support for Bowe displayed at the event, within a few days it became apparent that the hoped-for talks had broken down. By year’s end, a Christmas card-writing campaign for Bowe had gained thousands of supporters.

Building in Bellevue
     The city of Bellevue’s Planning Director, Craig Eckles, was busy processing numerous new Main Street business applications throughout the year, everything from a tattoo parlor and art gallery to the Family Dollar Store. The city’s Chamber of Commerce sprang back to life with a number of business- after-hours events.
    The Safe Haven eldercare facility, a development that promises to bring numerous jobs to a town hit especially hard by the recession, broke ground at the north end of Bellevue.
    The Valley Co-op took over the gas station and bowling alley at the south end of town.
    A three-acre parcel of commercial property at the south end of Bellevue that had been proposed as a transit hub site for Mountain Rides public transportation service sold to Joe’s Backhoe Excavation, which moved from Hailey’s Woodside light-industrial area.
    The old stand-by restaurant Jessie’s on Main Street closed in 2013, but Brandy’s Kitchen was scheduled to open on the site in early January.

Old Cutters v. Hailey
    One year after the city of Hailey appealed a federal bankruptcy court’s decision that bars the city from seeking $2.5 million in unpaid annexation fees from Old Cutters Inc., city leaders continue to pay close attention to a case that could cast doubt on the legal viability of annexation fee agreements.
    The court also invalidated the city’s requirement that Old Cutters include 20 affordable housing units in the partly built 108-unit subdivision in east Hailey.
    The decision addresses several claims and counterclaims by the city, Old Cutters and Mountain West Bank over payments of fees, loans and the legality of liens on the property.
    In granting Old Cutters’ motions for summary judgment, federal Judge Jim Pappas called Hailey’s annexation fee of $3.8 million, contained in a 2006 annexation agreement, “unquestionably” in excess of the amount required to compensate the city for actual costs resulting from the annexation.
    Hailey is appealing the decision in federal district court, but the case has implications for other cities as well. Bellevue is due a payment of $500,000 in annexation fees this month from Strahorn developer Jeff Pfaeffle. The city has made no plans for spending the money until it is in hand.
    “If Hailey loses the appeal, then I think it could leave the door open for other developers to renegotiate the terms of fees or go into courts to file actions to change the fees they have agreed to pay,” Bellevue City Attorney Rick Allington said.
    Last winter, developer Dave Hennessy closed down trails at the mouth of Quigley Canyon that had been used for generations and removed ski trails from the canyon floor that had been used by the Blaine County Recreation District for years.
    In response, the Recreation District groomed trails on the other side of town in Croy Canyon.
    After several trails near Hailey were closed by the Beaver Creek Fire in August, Hennessy, in an act of generosity, reopened several popular hiking trails on his property at the mouth of Quigley Canyon.    
Tony Evans:

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