Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hailey leaders criticize Eccles’ camp

Bellevue mayor says annexation could be ‘really good for the city’

Express Staff Writer

This graphic shows the proposed zoning and layout of the Eccles property to the north of Bellevue.
Courtesy graphic

    Hailey officials are refuting a comment by attorney Evan Robertson last week that land belonging to the Eccles family between Hailey and Bellevue “will be annexed into one city or the other.”
    Hailey Councilman Pat Cooley said on Monday that Robertson’s comment was unfounded and demonstrated a “fear-driven agenda.”
    Robertson made the statement to the Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission on July 28, before the commission voted to push forward with an annexation plan for 227 acres of the Flying Hat Ranch for Bellevue City Council review.
    Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle also took issue Monday with Robertson’s presumption, instructing staff to write a letter to the Bellevue City Council and Mayor Chris Koch, setting the record straight.  Haemmerle said the city has no plans whatsoever to annex any property, and has not been in touch at all with the applicant.
    “We have not been approached,” said Haemmerle in an interview. “And if we were approached, we certainly would not go about it unilaterally.” Haemmerle said he would fight to keep a buffer zone of undeveloped property between the two cities.
    The property proposed for annexation into Bellevue is located on the east side of Highway 75. Proposed zoning districts for the site include 91 acres of Business zoning along the highway.
    Hailey officials and Bellevue residents have expressed concern that developing that much commercial property could detract from commercial activity in the downtowns of both Hailey and Bellevue.
    Hailey City Councilman Don Keirn said the annexation, as proposed, could have impacts similar to those brought by shopping mall developments to the old downtown area of Twin Falls about 20 years ago.
    “They once had a vibrant downtown,” said Keirn. “Then the malls came to the north end and that left Main Street like a ghost town.”
    Koch said the proposed annexation could be “really good for the city” of Bellevue.
    “It would give us room to grow. Right now we are busting at the seams,” said Koch.
    He said there will be “many” City Council meetings before an annexation is approved, and sent back to the P&Z Commission for review.
    Koch said he “has no comment at this time” about the possibility of keeping a buffer zone of undeveloped property between the two towns.
    In response to a perceived threat several years ago, that “big box stores’ like Kmart and Walmart could negatively impact the local economy, Hailey restricted maximum building footprints to 36,000 square feet, about the size of Albertsons grocery store in north Hailey. Bellevue’s maximum allowable footprint is 30,000.
    “There is a lot of work to do. There will be plenty more public comment,” Koch said.
    Haemmerle said he “could never say never” if an annexation request were brought to the city of Hailey, but that right now he would not entertain a request due to a pending appeal in federal court of a decision that prohibits Hailey from collecting annexation fees from Old Cutters LLC that were deemed “excessive,” beyond the economic impacts to the city.
    No date has been set for a final decision on Hailey’s appeal of the decision.

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