For the week of June 3 thru June 9, 1998  


P&Z site visit habits questioned

Express Staff Writer

Is it possible for a planning commissioner to execute fair and accurate design review of a property without ever seeing that site?

This necessity of site visits, backed by an Idaho Supreme Court-based legal argument, trail the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission’s first use of the Hillside Ordinance design review process.

Before considering a house proposal for the sloped land in Croesus Creek by Robert Dix, county planning administrator Linda Haavik handed the P&Z a letter from protesting neighbors Ivar and Nina Lovaas’ lawyer Barry Luboviski.

"When a local zoning body…views a parcel of property in question, it must provide notice and the opportunity to be present to the parties," Luboviski’s letter reads, citing case law originally out of Twin Falls County.

Two P&Z commissioners, Tom Bowman and Jay Coleman, separately visited the proposal site before Thursday’s hearing to view a "story pole" marking the planned height of the home, confirmed P&Z chair Cindy Mann, who said she did not visit the site but was "familiar" with it.

"We’ve already been warned we can’t have a quorum or a visit does need to be noticed [to the public]," Mann said after the meeting. "It does make for a good decision to visit a site, but it is not mandatory."

Visibility of a structure is a major factor the P&Z must take into account when considering a hillside structure in Mountain Overlay District, the zone of sloped land where building is limited by law.

Luboviski explained that the Supreme Court case is not about holding open public meetings, but rather it shows a need to allow members of the public the "right to be present" and assure an accurate viewing of the project.

"It’s about making sure everyone’s looking at the right piece of property," he said. "The [Hillside] Ordinance is based to a great extent on design. It’s ludicrous the board doesn’t have to make a visit."

Calling forward his many years in various local planning posts, Luboviski added, "A place always looks different from pictures."

The P&Z went ahead with the hillside hearing, and approved the Croesus Creek home, however, Haavik said she plans to contact Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Doug Werth for legal advice.

Site visits are not mandatory, confirmed Haavik, adding she felt the photos, models and other visual aids given P&Z members were adequate substitutions for informed decisions.

"I think P&Z commissioners should be able to visit a site at their own convenience," Haavik said. "We certainly encourage people to do that."

She added mandatory, publicly noticed site visits would take more staff time and might prevent P&Z members from stopping by at their own convenience."

County Commissioner Len Harlig agreed.

"My preference would always be that P&Z commissioners and county board members make a site visit," Harlig said. "But, it doesn’t mean they can’t make a qualified decision without one."

As for requiring publicly noticed site visits, Harlig said, "I don’t think that would be a good idea. It would be so time-impractical for the county to have every member of the P&Z meet together. You’d be penalizing a system already under stress."

As of Tuesday morning, Werth had not held counsel with planners, Haavik said.


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