Bellevue Mayor Chris Koch has appointed a five-person citizens committee to review recommended changes to the city’s comprehensive plan by Oct. 22, spurring further discord over the speed at which the city is moving toward approval of an annexation that could nearly double its area.
A directive from the mayor that committee meetings take place behind closed doors appeared to be in violation of Idaho’s Open Meeting Law, which was designed to ensure transparency of the legislative and administrative processes within state and local governments.
Idaho code states that open meetings must be conducted for any agency or governing body “with the authority to make decisions or recommendations to a public agency regarding any matter.” On Tuesday, the mayor changed course, deciding to allow the press and public at the meetings, but not to allow public comment.
The citizens committee was formed Monday in response to numerous demands by the public last week to slow down the process, but none of the 25 people who clamored for its formation were appointed to the committee.
“I think you’re doing a disservice to the community,” Bellevue resident Kristin Fletcher told the mayor regarding the committee’s composition.
Koch said he based his selection on his 13 years of experience on the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council. He said he received a “long list” of volunteers to choose from, and chose people who are “active” in the community.
Koch said he was “looking for a fresh set of eyes” to look at the comprehensive plan.
On Monday, Sept. 22, about 30 Bellevue residents, including Fletcher, crowded into City Hall during a P&Z meeting to express concern over Planning Director Craig Eckles’ recommended changes to the city’s comprehensive plan.
P&Z Chair Chase Gouley and several Bellevue residents and former city leaders claimed that several of Eckles’ recommendations were made to accommodate the Eccles family, which in June requested annexation of 227 acres north of town. The Eccles family is seeking to bring in 91 acres of commercial development along state Highway 75, which many fear could include big-box retail stores such as Walmart.
The proposed changes said to favor the Eccles’ plan include removal of the “area of city impact” map, removal of language discouraging commercial “strip development,” removal of the city’s stated goal to maintain a clear separation between Bellevue and Hailey, and removal of requirements that new development “be compatible to each other and their natural setting.”
The P&Z, led by Gouley, recommended denial by the City Council of many of Eckles’ proposed changes, but those recommendations could be reversed by the newly formed committee. Also, according to the posted meeting procedures, only those recommendations proposed by Eckles last week can be considered by the committee.
“We should never have only a ‘window of opportunity’ as citizens of Bellevue.”
“What’s the hurry?” asked former Bellevue Councilman John Wilkes, who helped write the comprehensive plan in 2002. “Why do we have only 22 days to review these proposed changes?”
Koch replied that he did not want to take “too much of the committee members’ time” because they all have jobs. He said public comments on Oct. 27 will be limited to three minutes each.
City Council candidate Craig Wolfrom said Monday that the mayor and council’s recent actions with regard to the Eccles annexation request are “polarizing the community.” He said the minimum notice requirements posted at City Hall and the Bellevue Post Office were not enough to gather public comment from those interested in city affairs.
“People say they are incredibly frustrated,” Wolfrom said.
He said the city’s Facebook page was the only venue for public comment.
Bellevue resident and firefighter Brent Shoemaker thanked the City Council and mayor for all the work they have done in recent years to help the city through the recession, and for taking steps to revitalize the local economy.
“One of the ways to fix things is to add more people to the pot,” Shoemaker said.
The annexation, if it is approved, will very likely add more people to Bellevue. In addition to the 91 acres of Business zoning, the annexation request calls for 43 acres of Residential zoning, both at the southern edge of Bellevue and away from the highway to the east on a hillside.
The northern end of the proposed annexation would be composed of 28 acres of Light Industrial zoning alongside existing LI zoning in Woodside at the southern end of Hailey, and 14 acres of Light Industrial-Mixed Business zoning at the entrance to the city. Thirty-two acres of mixed-use zoning would buffer neighborhoods from the commercial areas.
Koch said in an interview that he would consider using a larger venue for the Oct. 27 meeting, and consider using instant polling technology to gather public input.
Bellevue resident Theresa Gregory suggested last week that the city use the Distance Learning Laboratory at Wood River High School, where Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle recently hosted a town hall meeting to gather input on the proposed Eccles annexation.
“Mayor Koch said we should hurry so as not to miss our window of opportunity to make public comment,” Gregory said. “We should never have only a ‘window of opportunity’ as citizens of Bellevue.”
In other Bellevue news:
- The City Council instructed staff to identify the dates of Freidman Memorial Airport Authority meetings in order to appoint council members to attend the meetings on a regular basis.
- The council approved addition of $419,000 of unexpected revenue to the city budget, from grants and sewer capitalization fees, and approved use of the money for repairs to City Hall and other city infrastructure improvements.
- Erin Crawford—Veterinarian with Sawtooth Equine Service, Bellevue chamber board member.
- Dick Fairfield- Retired dentist, current home builder/developer, Bellevue Urban Renewal Commission member.
- Dan Gearheart – Resident of Chantrelle subdivision, FAA flight procedures director.
- Pat Rainey, Advisor to Tree Committee, Fire Department, owner of Alpine Tree Service.
- Fran McDonald - Residential property owner in Bellevue, past member of Tree Committee, Friends of the Howard Preserve member.
- Meetings should be on Monday and Wednesday nights or others days or nights and times as the committee deems necessary between Sept. 30 and Oct. 21.
- All changes recommended by the citizens committee shall be turned over to the city clerk no later than 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, and such documents shall be available to anyone requesting them by 10 a.m. the same day.
- The Planning and Zoning Commission shall also receive the citizen committee document on Oct. 22 for its review prior to a public hearing on Monday, Oct. 27, at 6 p.m.
- As applicable pages are reviewed and finished by the committee, they shall be initialed and dated by the committee members. Staff shall take minutes of the meetings.