Friday, September 12, 2014

Hailey weighs in on Eccles annexation

Bellevue and Hailey residents support recommendations

Express Staff Writer

A proposed annexation of 227 acres of the Eccles family’s Flying Hat Ranch would about double the size of the city of Bellevue.
Courtesy graphic

     A town hall meeting hosted by Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle to gather input on a proposed annexation of 227 acres into Bellevue drew about 75 people to Wood River High School on Tuesday.

     Though he acknowledged that “obviously, Hailey does not get to decide” on the annexation approval, Haemmerle said it is important that the Wood River Valley community’s opinions are expressed and brought to Bellevue.

     Haemmerle and Hailey Community Development Director Micah Austin presented a list of 12 recommendations, which about 60 people voted on, using instant-polling clickers provided by Harry Griffith, executive director of Sun Valley Economic Development.

     Forty-two percent of the attendees at the meeting were from Bellevue and 40 percent were from Hailey. The rest were from Blaine County, Ketchum, Sun Valley or elsewhere.

     Eighty-four percent of voting participants said it was important for Hailey to provide comment on the annexation. Ninety percent said Bellevue leaders should zone the annexed land in such a way as to preserve the economy of downtown Bellevue.

     The city of Hailey’s concerns range from protecting the local economy from a glut of commercially zoned land and “big box” stores within the proposed annexation, protecting the bike path from road cuts, ensuring flight safety near Friedman Memorial Airport and keeping a visual corridor of open space between the two towns.

     The top three concerns of voters polled at the meeting were that Bellevue leaders maintain a visual corridor between the cities, “slow down” to thoroughly review the impacts of the proposed annexation and limit Bellevue’s expansion to about half a mile south of Hailey, at an area of city impact limit agreed upon by the Bellevue City Council in 2008, but never signed by Blaine County officials.

     The town hall meeting was called because the Bellevue City Council and mayor have refused requests from Hailey leaders to be included in reviewing an annexation that, in its current form, would close the mile-long gap of farm fields between the two towns.

     “We think it is a mistake to annex up to one another’s borders,” Haemmerle said.

     Sixty-six percent of voting participants said they agree with the recommendation to limit Bellevue’s expansion to the area of city impact zone.

     About 88 percent said Bellevue should get more details about the proposed development plans and that the city would benefit from forming an ad hoc committee of Hailey leaders and other valley organizations to review the plan.

     Eighty-seven percent of participants said that maintaining a visual corridor between the two towns is important.

     Some discussion ensued regarding the potential impacts that big-box stores like Walmart and Kmart could have on the local economy. Hailey retail store owner Jane Drussell said that if big box stores come to town, she would go out of business and her employees would be let go.

     “If they go to work at the box store, they will be making half what they do now,” Drussell said. “Those of us who live and shop here spend our money here. Box stores take their money out of this valley. We need businesses here that attract other businesses into the city.”

     Bellevue resident and city employee Ruth Dey countered Drussell’s argument, saying that 90 percent of people in the valley already take their money outside the valley by driving to Twin Falls to shop.

     Haemmerle ended the meeting by saying that Bellevue should take the time to hear such arguments, for and against annexation, before making a decision.

     “This is a landmark decision that is going to affect our community for a long time,” he said.

     Bellevue Mayor Chris Koch, who was not at the meeting, said in an interview that no annexation discussion is on the Bellevue City Council agenda for Monday, Sept. 15, but that the annexation “could be” discussed on Oct. 20, depending on the timeliness of items recommended by city staff.

     “People can send in public comments about the annexation at any time,” Koch said. “They should send it in sooner than later. You would not want to miss your window of opportunity.”

     Koch said there will be a series of public hearings before the City Council approves anything, based on an annexation agreement that is being drawn up between city staff and the Eccles group.

     “I personally think the council will take their time to look at all the facts to make sure that things are done correctly,” he said. “By November and December, more facts will have come out.

      “As far as big box stores, I have not heard any rumblings about the intentions of the developer.”

     Koch said Hailey’s recommendations could possibly require a public hearing to review.

     Griffith said he has offered the Bellevue City Council and mayor the use of his instant polling technology for gathering public input on the annexation review process.

     “I think it is a great tool and a great asset,” Koch said. “We would probably also need to use a larger venue (than City Hall) for some of these larger public hearings.”

     Koch declined to say whether the current City Council members or potential new members voted in during the November election (and seated on Jan. 1) would make the decision on the annexation.

     “All the incumbents, and those running against them, are all longstanding residents of Bellevue and can make good decisions,” he said.

     In other Bellevue news:

  • The City Council will likely approve on Monday as part of the consent agenda a contract with Caplan Associates for an annexation fee study and tax revenue analysis for the Eccles Flying Hat Ranch annexation request.

  • Hailey recommendations on Eccles annexation:

    1. Slow down and require a detailed development plan.

    2. Form an ad hoc committee.

    3. Stay consistent with Bellevue ACI.

    4. Adopt policies that improve Bellevue’s downtown.

    5. Protect current retail establishments.

    6. Increase light industrial and manufacturing zoning.

    7. Protect the hillsides from development.

    8. Expand recreation opportunities.

    9. Protect and improve existing recreation opportunities.

    10. Maintain a “visual corridor” between the cities.

    11. Ensure that development will comply with all FAA regulations.

    12. Dedicate park/open space between the cities.

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