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For the week of March 7 through 13, 2001

Sawtooth Society opposes SNRA building regs

Express Staff Writer

Construction standards proposed by the Sawtooth National Forest for Idaho’s crown jewel, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA), are receiving some resistance.

In a six-page letter, the Sawtooth Society’s executive director, Bob Hayes, and its president, Bethine Church, told SNRA officials that the proposed standards are too restrictive and that the public participation process, by which the standards were drafted, was flawed.

The Sawtooth Society was formed in 1997 by Church to help watch over the SNRA. The nonprofit organization has helped fund more than a dozen key recreation projects as well as helped orchestrate purchases of key conservation easements on the SNRA. The group is also a lobbyist for what it deems to be fair and appropriate rule making.

"The Sawtooth Society, following an in-depth analysis of the 120-page [environmental assessment on proposed building standards], has informed the Forest Service that we cannot support its preferred alternative," Hayes, who owns a home within the SNRA, wrote in a letter to the Mountain Express. "In our opinion, the [preferred] alternative is far more prescriptive, restrictive and intrusive than necessary to fulfill either the letter or spirit of the law…"

The standards by which the SNRA governs private land development were adopted in 1974, and the current revision process began in 1996.

The types of standards and guidelines under review include landscaping, building size, building location, architectural style, color, materials and fencing. The standards are similar to municipal planning and zoning design review guidelines, Sawtooth National Forest supervisor Bill LeVere said.

The Forest Service drafted five alternatives for the public’s consideration, ranging from "no action," meaning the existing regulations would remain, to high restrictions, including a proposed 1,580-square-foot cap on building size.

The preferred alternative, called alternative four, provides "more detailed standards and guidelines related to use and development on private land," the proposal states.

The Sawtooth Society, Hayes and Church wrote to the Forest Service, thinks implementation of the preferred alternative could result in "unintended and unwanted" consequences.

"Repelled by what they believe to be unreasonable building standards, private landowners that otherwise embrace efforts to protect the SNRA may choose not to seek certification or compliance," the letter states. "This could lead to fewer, not more, landowners being in compliance with the Private Land Regulations.

"Equally serious, the implementation and enforcement of this alternative would likely undermine public support for the agency and jeopardize its ability to properly manage the SNRA."

Hayes said those criticisms apply to alternatives two through five. The only acceptable alternative, as the alternatives are drafted, is the "no action" alternative, he said.

LeVere, however, said the revised regulations would simply "bring some common sense" to the matter of development in the SNRA.

"These large homes clearly don’t protect the historic and scenic values," he said.

Under alternative four, allowable building sizes depend on a site’s proximity to a public corridor and the site’s terrain. A maximum of 5,000 square feet would be allowed for a non-visible lot that’s more than two miles from the nearest public corridor. A maximum of 1,800 square feet would be allowed for a lot in open sage or grassland that’s less than a quarter mile from a public corridor.

"…[W]e believe that the Forest Service has utterly failed to demonstrate that the area’s qualities are being, or will be, materially impaired by building that is currently allowed," Hayes’ and Church’s letter states.

Further, the society charges that the Forest Service has not listened to public comments made against the more restrictive proposals and that the federal agency has held public meetings during the winters, when many SNRA home and property owners are out of the area.

"Sadly, and with great reluctance, we have concluded that the process being used by the Forest Service is intended to give the impression of meaningful public involvement but, in fact, it a process that aims to ensure that only the agency’s views prevail," the letter continues.


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