Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bellevue moving too fast on Eccles annexation


    As a Bellevue resident, I find the process and scale of the proposed Eccles annexation alarming. Let me give three reasons why: minimal transparency, minimal public involvement, significant long-term negative consequences to Bellevue and our Wood River Valley neighbors.
    City of Bellevue staff repeatedly promised transparency at the first Planning and Zoning meeting. But the process only just meets minimum legal requirements. To see a proposed rezoning map prior to the first P&Z meeting, an intrepid citizen had to negotiate 25 feet of prickly weeds and uneven terrain to study a poster stapled to a fence post; certainly discouraging for someone with mobility issues.
    Meeting notices are posted at the Post Office and inside and outside City Hall. Too bad if you missed seeing that notice when it went up on Thursday for a crucial meeting on Monday proposing to gut key parts of the comprehensive plan, giving the Eccles developers an easy ride. Too bad if you receive your mail at home or at the Hailey Post Office or were just swamped at work. Transparent? Barely.  
    So far, the city of Bellevue has shown they need little input from the very citizens they represent.  Residents got just a few days’ notice for a public P&Z meeting about the proposed annexation and three minutes to voice their opinion before the P&Z approved doubling the size of our town and changed zoning so that a strip mall a mile long and five blocks deep is suddenly very likely.
    Don’t be afraid of public input. Invite it! Create an ad hoc committee to guide annexation discussions and a citizens committee to review of the Bellevue Comprehensive Plan. It was noteworthy that last week the city of Sun Valley, no stranger to controversy itself, placed an ad in the Mountain Express notifying the public of a meeting to discuss updates to their comprehensive plan and provided a website for citizens to review supporting background materials. Citizens of Bellevue deserve the same respect.
    What is the consequence of inadequate transparency and public involvement? Simple: A flawed vision of Bellevue’s future. If the proposed Eccles annexation and zoning changes are approved, here’s what’s in store. Imagine a strip mall one mile long and five blocks wide along the highway north of Bellevue, the same distance as the Hailey Post Office to King’s!  

So far, the city of Bellevue has shown they need little input from the very citizens they represent. 

    Many people believe big-box stores are eager to move in if the Eccles annexation is approved as proposed. Some on the Bellevue City Council think this is a good idea.  On the surface, it might be appealing. But what would be the consequences to a multitude of family-run businesses in Bellevue and Hailey if, say, a Home Depot opened? Do you think Valley Coop, Franklin Building Supply, Idaho Lumber, L.L. Green’s, Ace Hardware, Valley Paint and Sun Valley Rug and Tile would survive?  How about if Fred Meyer moved in? How would it impact the Bellevue and Hailey Atkinsons’ markets, Guffy’s, Bellevue General Store, Jane’s Artifacts, Dollar Store, Sun Valley Garden Center, Branching Out, The Trader and Fabric Granary? Are we willing to trade many family-run local businesses for a very few corporate-run box stores? Those business owners and employees are our neighbors and friends.
    By one estimate, over 60 percent of Bellevue’s available business area is vacant—empty. Struggling business owners complain that the city does little to promote our community and help them succeed. Yet the city endorses obliterating an attractive visual corridor to create a massive new business zone a mile long that would draw shoppers away from local businesses. Who does the city of Bellevue represent?  Is this truly their vision for the future of our community?
    Citizens of Bellevue demand smart growth, which celebrates and encourages local businesses in our historic downtown core, not reckless growth that attracts giant corporations like flies to sugar.

    Kristin Fletcher lives in Bellevue.

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