For the week of October 7 thru October 13, 1998  

County adopts subdivision ordinance

Express Staff Writer

o7pet.gif (12234 bytes)Ketchum Mayor Guy Coles signs a petition regarding proposed amendments to the county subdivision ordinance while Steve Wolper looks on at the Ketchum Post Office Wednesday. (Express photo by Willy Cook)

Despite the adoption Monday of an amended Blaine County subdivision ordinance, the future course of development of open space in the county remains uncertain.

A public hearing on proposed amendments to the county’s subdivision ordinance, held before the county board of commissioners at the old county courthouse in Hailey, was a shorter, less contentious replay of a similar meeting two weeks ago.

This time the commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance with a few changes they all agreed were "not material."

Most of the changes to the ordinance were designed to preserve agricultural land in the south county, a goal of the county’s comprehensive plan. The proposed changes had been resisted by many ranchers and farmers who wish to maintain the option of subdividing their property.

The effects of the commissioners action Monday on subdivision development remain to be seen, since the adopted ordinance, as Commissioner Len Harlig said, "is not the final version."

Commissioner Dennis Wright said of the ordinance, "We will continue to look at the problem. We have no future in the present amendment."

Harlig reiterated that "the board is in concert, and we will continue to look at the issues and make the ordinance not too onerous and not too easy to circumvent. It’s better to work on this together."

Though several people spoke during the three-hour-long meeting, south-county rancher Katie Breckenridge spoke most forcefully about the emotions engendered by the divisive private property rights issues raised by the ordinance.

"We do not know what we have in this ordinance," she said. "Yes, this whole thing is unpleasant. Yes, we have neighbor against neighbor over it."

Speaking to the commissioners, she said, "I hope you keep this process out of the courts, because we will not let people steal our land."

Ellen Glaccum of Sun Valley read a prepared statement of an opposing viewpoint. She told the commissioners that the majority of Blaine County voters had elected them because the voters treasure "clean water, the rivers, the hillsides, open space and a quality of life that needs strong zoning regulations."

Glaccum said that this same majority has a concern for "the greater good," and she called on the commissioners to think of the greater good and to protect Blaine County from what writer Hunter S. Thompson termed "greedheads."

At least one south-county farmer exhibited displeasure with Glaccum’s use of Thompson’s locution to describe those who would subdivide farmland, confronting her after the meeting with surly questions about her meaning and her farming experience.

Steve Wolper of Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth presented the board with a petition signed by more than 700 Blaine County citizens asking that the ordinance address several issues:

  • Require developers to pay for their impact on schools, public-safety agencies and other services.

  • Promote orderly development by discouraging subdivision development away from established services.  Encourage preservation of wildlife habitat and open spaces.

  •  Ensure that subdivisions are compatible with agriculturally zoned property.

In addition, Wolper asked the board to strengthen the ordinance by changing the word "may" to the word "shall" in several sections. As an example, Wolper pointed out a section of the ordinance that reads, "The Board may require an access easement to publicly administered land, streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs."

Lloyd Betts of Ketchum dismissed the credibility of Wolper and the people who signed the petition because, according to Betts, Wolper had not read the ordinance prior to soliciting the signatures. Wolper denies Betts’ allegation. He said, "I read the ordinance thoroughly, and, more important, those 700 citizens read the petition before signing it."

Just before the vote to adopt was taken, Commissioner Mary Ann Mix clarified that the ordinance contained 20 ‘mays’ and 95 ‘shalls’ and maintained that the ordinance was not diluted by the ‘mays.’ She pointed out that farmers need to be able to have the zoning to subdivide to be eligible for bank loans in order to keep on farming.

"We will establish a kinder and gentler hearing," she said. "We do mean what we say."

Clinton Kline, a farmer and member of the Canyon County Planning and Zoning Commission, attended the meeting to "offer insights." People have a right to do with their land as they want, he said, but asked "what happens if they want to build a nuclear plant next door?"

Kline also said, speaking to the commissioners, that any comprehensive plan or ordinance "is only as good as the people who stand behind it."

Recognizing the work still to be done on the adopted ordinance, Harlig concluded the hearing by saying, "We’ll be having more of these get togethers in the future."


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