For the week of October 14 thru October 20, 1998  

"No one who makes their living in Blaine County…will ever be a resident of this subdivision." Tom Bowman, Blaine County P&Z

County planners balk at berms

Express Staff Writer

The era of the Big Berm may be over.

As subdivisions have filled the space between Ketchum and Hailey, berms designed to shield them have walled off long sections of State Highway 75. Like a televised performance of Elvis Presley, the valley’s once expansive views are now only visible from the waist up.

Several years ago, widespread complaints prompted talk among county officials about adopting an ordinance regulating berms. But no action was taken, and each subdivision proposal, with its attendant berms, is still decided individually.

On Thursday, the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission heard the second in a series of presentations for the proposed Golden Eagle II subdivision. Developer Harry Rinker proposes to create 28 lots around seven ponds on a 184-acre parcel at Greenhorn Gulch, midway between Hailey and Ketchum.

Engineer Doug Clemens showed P&Z members a drawing of the long, undulating berm he has in mind building along the highway. He said it would range in height from two to eight feet.

"We have peek-throughs, whatever you want to call them, into the site," he said.

But this time, the P&Z wasn’t buying. Peeking through, they said, is not good enough.

"Certainly in the world of berms, these are the best berms there are," P&Z member Sandy Sullivan said. "But if I have a choice, I would vote for no berms at all."

Sullivan said the developer ought to consider the use of trees and shrubbery instead. Clemens responded that that would work fine for visual screening, but would not block noise. Sullivan remained adamant.

"At some point, somebody has to say, ‘Sorry, we already have enough,’" she said. "I think Greenhorn Gulch is an important enough scenic view for all the members of the Wood River Valley that they have to find some other way of blocking the noise without blocking the scenic view."

That contention was backed by resident Marc McGregor, representing Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth. McGregor cited a section of the county subdivision ordinance that requires subdivisions to preserve natural terrain.

"I think there is a significant portion of the public that thinks those strictures were violated during the first Golden Eagle (subdivision)," he said.

As the meeting dragged on past 10 p.m., P&Z members decided to postpone voting on any recommendations. However, chair Cindy Mann concluded that it was the commission’s sentiment that the Golden Eagle II subdivision should provide at least 500 feet of uninterrupted view along Highway 75.

Other than the berms, the P&Z members generally applauded the upscale development with its relatively generous amount of open space.

"Unless Mr. Rinker wants to donate his land to the benefit of the Wood River Valley, this is the best subdivision we’re going to get," said P&Z member Theresa Comber.

But P&Z member Tom Bowman pointed out that Golden Eagle II’s luxurious lots come at a price for the community.

"No one who makes their living in Blaine County…will ever be a resident of this subdivision," he said.

Bowman suggested that the developer be required to construct some kind of employee housing on each of two lots where a maintenance building and recreation building are planned. The proposal was not voted upon, but neither did it meet with any objection from other P&Z members.


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