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For the week of June 12 - 18, 2002


The ABCs of TDRs

County considers transfer-of-development-rights program

Express Staff Writer

Maintaining its optimism that market forces can be resisted, Blaine County is considering adding a new tool to its efforts to preserve agriculture and open space south of Bellevue.

Under the county’s proposed transfer-of-development-rights program, density would be decreased south of Baseline Road, south of Bellevue, at the expense of increasing it closer to Bellevue and perhaps elsewhere in the county.

The county commissioners will soon need to decide whether to amend county ordinances to adopt the program. The vote will be the culmination of an almost five-year effort that has included much work by a citizens’ advisory board, whose members have written the draft ordinance.

A public hearing was held Thursday at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey to provide the commissioners with information and to solicit comments from the public. A second hearing is scheduled for June 19.

However, as is typical of public hearings, few members of "the public" were included among the dozen people who attended.

"I understand why people don’t come to these meetings, because they get so technical people get lost!" said an exasperated Diane James, a resident of Picabo.

Simple in concept, TDR programs are complex in their ramifications.

The program would create 5,300 acres of "sending areas," whose owners could sell, at a negotiated price, the rights to build as many houses as their zoning allows. Those rights would be transferred to 4,200 acres of "receiving areas," which would allow development of lots between one and 2.5 acres.

For example, a person who owns and lives on 40 acres in the A-20 zone could sell one TDR. Someone on 60 acres could sell two TDRs.

An easement would be created on the sending parcels, forever deleting the right to development.

The idea is to give farmers and ranchers an alternative to selling their property outright, by which they could profit from its increasing value, yet remain on their land and keep it in agriculture. It would create additional density in selected areas, but reduce it in others, maintaining the overall level of allowable development.

The TDR would not have to be bought directly by the owner of a receiving-area parcel. Anyone could speculate on its value by buying it and holding it as long as he or she wished before finding a buyer.

Both the suggested sending areas and receiving areas are in the A-20 zone.

During Thursday’s hearing, the program was promoted by several members of the citizens’ advisory board, though even they admitted the existence of stumbling blocks.

They pointed out that the suggested receiving areas are only a first step, and more would have to be designated in the Wood River Valley’s towns, or at least closer to them, if the program is to be successful. Without enough demand, they said, the value of TDRs would not closely enough approach that of the land itself to induce the owners of sending-area parcels to participate.

However, land near the city limits of Hailey and Bellevue is embroiled in negotiations with the county over potential designation as Areas of City Impact.

"There’s no way we’d ever see the light of day if we had to chew on all those issues," said attorney Doug Werth, a citizens’ advisory board member and representative for Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth, in an interview.

As a result, the proposed receiving areas are confined to those zoned Agricultural. However, comments made at the hearing indicated the reliance of property owners on already-designated densities could be a problem even there.

"It would severely cramp my style and the styles of a lot of people who moved to the area for a little elbow room," said Jay Coleman, a resident of Freedom Loop, a private road in the proposed Glendale sending area.

In response, Commissioner Dennis Wright asked Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves to look into the legal impacts of increasing density in the receiving areas.

"Once a subdivision is created and people are buying into it, they’re buying into a sort of right of little change," Wright said.

Coleman contended the TDR program would make a lot of money for real estate agents and developers, but "suburbanize" the area south of Bellevue, creating more highway congestion and a demand for more Commercial zoning there.

"Is it a solution to the open-space problem south of Pero Road or a Trojan horse?" Coleman asked. "It will cost us our well-being in the future."

Mickey Garcia, public meeting habitué and former candidate for Ketchum mayor, contended there is no "open-space problem" in Blaine County, pointing out that 82 percent of the county is owned by the federal government. He also predicted that most TDRs would be sold by wealthy gentleman ranchers after they buy property they have no intention of developing anyway. Let the market dictate land use, Garcia contended.

Werth questioned the advisability of the proposed receiving area along Baseline Road, calling it "leapfrog development." Commission chair Mary Ann Mix expressed concern that the designation of receiving areas far from Bellevue could present legal obstacles to the county’s denying subdivision applications on the grounds that they are too far from county services.

Former Commissioner Leonard Harlig pointed out that under existing zoning, the allowable countywide build-out would result in a population of about 80,000. He questioned whether the county should even be searching for answers to its growth problems under such a high ceiling.

"At 20,000 and counting, we’re already under stress in a lot of areas," he said. "I think we ought to start looking at whether we have some upper limit and what that limit is. (Otherwise), I don’t think we will have achieved the long-range planning goals that we want."


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.