For the week of May 5, 1999  thru May 11, 1999  

South county residents divided over new subdivision

Express Staff Writer

Following charges by irate ranchers and farmers that county officials are unfairly restricting development, the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission has postponed until May 20 a decision on a proposed south-county subdivision.

Applicants William and Mary Helen Leet propose to subdivide 104 acres into four lots approximately 26 acres each. The property is zoned A-20 Productive Agriculture and is located on the southwest corner of Baseline Road and Schoessler Lane. Of the 104 acres, 96 to 100 acres of the property would be preserved for agricultural use.

Several south-county property owners attended a hearing on the proposal Thursday.

"I have a real problem with the P&Z because they want to stonewall south-county development." Said Pepin Corso-Harris. "People making decisions on ag land usage have no more experience with farming than with Chia pets."

Harris contended that the P&Z must better protect the rights of property owners when considering the balance between those rights and preserving agricultural land.

South county farmer and former P&Z member Harold Drussel said he supported the proposal and couldn’t understand all the harassment that south-county land owners have to go through in the subdivision process.

Referring to his nine years on the commission, Drussel said, "We tried to play fair with everyone, but sometimes the comp plan gets so complicated that you can’t be fair with anyone."

Picabo rancher Katie Breckenridge contended that "the comp plan was set up as a guideline and the P&Z is trying to make it law. That’s why there are so many problems."

She called A-20 subdivision one of the most viable options for agricultural producers in a time of depressed market prices.

"We must have an alternative to hay and potatoes," she said.

Judy Rogers, however, opposed the subdivision. She said raising crops on 20-acre parcels "too big for a lawn mower and too small for a plow" is not a money-making proposition.

The county’s comprehensive plan calls for the preservation and encouragement of agriculture and notes that demand is increasing for five- to forty-acre farms.

P&Z Commissioner Teresa Comber said the commission has identified land south of Baseline Road as land that needs to be preserved for agriculture.

"We base decisions on the comprehensive plan and zoning laws." Comber said.

Comber said she was perplexed that the Leets did not propose clustered homes.

Representing the Leets, Galena Engineering’s Mike Choat called the proposal "an agricultural subdivision." He said that on 20-acre parcels, agriculture is prime use and residential use is secondary, and that 20-acre parcels are for people who want to be part of the agricultural community. He said existing owners of such parcels are good stewards of the land.

However, Commissioner Jay Coleman said that hobby farmers--those who don’t rely on farming as a sole source of income—may pose a threat to people trying to stay in farming.

Commissioner Cindy Mann acknowledged that there were valid points made by both sides, but that it was unfortunate to see such a division.

"We need to revise the comp plan," she said. "It’s obvious by the dialogue we hear."


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