Friday, September 19, 2014

Eccles annexation spurs rewrite of Bellevue comp plan

City Council awaits $6,000 study on impacts from 227-acre development

Express Staff Writer

    The Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on Monday, Sept. 22, to present a rewrite of the city’s comprehensive plan, primarily to accommodate a request by the Eccles family to annex 227 acres into the city.
    The portions of the comprehensive plan to be discussed include possible changes to the “area of city impact” ordinance, minimum lot-size requirements, open space requirements, and water and natural resource conservation. Portions of the rewritten document pertain to requirements for property dedication and easements for access.
    The P&Z Commission signed off on many of the proposed changes in July when it recommended to the City Council approval of the annexation of the portion of the Eccles’ Flying Hat Ranch that spans between Hailey and Bellevue on the east side of state Highway 75. The proposed changes include the removal of requirements for visual corridors between Bellevue and Hailey and the reduction in lot sizes from 12,000 square feet to 3,000 square feet. The proposed elimination of the area of city impact ordinance would double the northern reach of the proposed annexation, beyond the existing ACI line, right up to the city limits of Hailey.
    The issues to be discussed Monday, as proposed by Planning Director Craig Eckles, include the following: private property rights, population, school facilities and transportation, economic development, land use, natural resources, hazardous areas, public services, facilities, utilities, transportation, recreation and open space, special areas and sites, housing, community design, implementation and historical preservation.
    Eckles said the comprehensive plan was in need of an update. He said he had “no idea” how long it might take the P&Z Commission to review the plan and make appropriate changes.
    If the speed at which the city has moved so far on the requested annexation is any indication, the comprehensive plan rewrite may not take long. The P&Z voted during one meeting in July to recommend the annexation, which would bring in 91 acres of business zoning along Highway 75 and could alter the look of the south valley and impact the overall economy of Blaine County.
    By contrast, a major annexation request by developer Harry Rinker in 2005 that would have brought 280 acres and 608 homes south of town into the Bellevue was scrutinized by city leaders for two years during six P&Z meetings and six City Council meetings, before the annexation plan was rescinded by Rinker in 2007 at the start of the housing crash and recession.
    Hailey leaders and some Bellevue residents have stated that the preponderance of business zoning—and the probability of big-box store development—in the proposed Eccles development, makes this annexation more significant than Rinker’s, carrying potentially- negative impacts on property values and small businesses in the entire Wood River Valley.
    Conversely, proponents of the annexation say it would provide jobs and be a lasting economic boon to the area. The Eccles’ attorney, Evan Robertson, said at the P&Z meeting in July that the annexation would bring jobs and revitalize the entire city of Bellevue. Robertson said he saw the same boon come to Twin Falls when the shopping mall areas on the crest of the Snake River Canyon were built about 20 years ago.  
    Bellevue Mayor Chris Koch, who has yet to review in public the annexation request, advised the public to make comments to City Hall “sooner than later,” so as not to miss their “window of opportunity.”
    Koch, who sets the City Council’s agendas, would not say when the annexation would go before the council for final review. He said he defers to Eckles’ priorities before setting the agenda for monthly City Council meetings.
    The Bellevue City Council approved on Monday the launch of a study that will be used to determine how much to charge the Eccles family for the annexation, which would impact many city services and the 20-year  capital improvement plan. The capital improvement plan includes requirements for fire, police, city administration, water and sewer services and other needs.
    The $6,000 study will be conducted by Caplan Associates and paid for by the Eccles family.
    “If it is built out, what will it cost the city? This study will be a good basis from which to begin negotiations,” said Bellevue City Attorney Rick Allington.
    Allington said he expects the study to be completed in “about a month.”
    Allington said both the Caplan study and the comprehensive plan update are necessary in order to move forward.
    “They can happen at the same time,” he said.

Town meeting participants say ‘Slow Down’
In the absence of any significant public comment period thus far in Bellevue regarding the 227-acre annexation request by the Eccles family, Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle held a town hall meeting last week at Wood River High School. An equal number of participants from Hailey and Bellevue voted in support of 12 recommendations proposed by Hailey. Those recommendations were sent to Bellevue Planning Director Craig Eckles this week. The top three priorities for the town hall participants were to:  Slow down the review process, maintain a visual corridor between Bellevue and Hailey, and stay consistent with the Bellevue voter-approved area-of-city-impact line, which would limit the annexation’s reach.

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