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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

News

County pares down housing ordinance

Commissioners consider re-written document


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Following a winter-long re-write of Blaine Countyís proposed, new affordable housing ordinance, the amount of land eligible for developments that would trade increased density for deed-restricted affordable housing shrank dramatically, to 2 square miles.

In a draft of the ordinance forwarded to the Blaine County Commission by the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission last fall, all residentially-zoned lands within the countyís jurisdiction fit within the parameters of the ordinance.

Standards limiting affordable housing developments to areas adjacent to cities, adjacent to areas with similar densities or that replace areas with similar densities were proposed to limit eligible areas within the county.

Under the new draft, the only area eligible for community housing developments is a 2-square-mile area south of the St. Lukeís Wood River Medical Center.

The Blaine County Commission held a public hearing on the new draft ordinance on Monday, April 26. About two dozen local residents and representatives of local business and nonprofit organizations attended. No formal action was taken, and the commission scheduled another hearing for Monday, May 3 at 3 p.m.

Blaine County Commissioner Mary Ann Mix pointed out she would prefer the area in the new overlay district to at least include residentially zoned areas between Hailey and Ketchum.

"Iíve always been a proponent of having the entire county in the district," she said. "As a compromise, I have always asked for the entire area from Hailey north, and I continue to ask that."

But she said she believes her fellow commissioners have different opinionsóand a majority of the votes.

Commission Chairman Dennis Wright said he has always maintained an opinion opposite to Mixís.

"I, personally, never supported it being countywide," he said. "There are just too many unknowns with it. I was probably always thinking of something smaller."

Commissioner Sarah Michael said she sees merit to both schools of thought, but she argued more doggedly for the 2-mile test area.

"Itís true. We have a huge affordable housing issue in Blaine County, but rather than open all of the county to five to 10 units per acre, which could definitely promote suburban sprawl, letís try it where the need is greatest," she said."

Michael said the greatest need is in the north part of the county, and she pointed out that the infrastructure needed to build a higher-density housing development is in place in the McHanville area.

There also is a large affordable housing project on deck for the area, should the new overlay zone receive approval, but commissioners said the pending proposal has nothing to do with focusing on the proposed 2-mile area.

For the most part, those who attended the meeting said it is time to do something for affordable housing in the county.

"Donít let perfect get in the way of good," said Tom Bowman, a county commission candidate who also worked on a citizen committee that helped initiate the affordable housing ordinance three years ago in the winter of 2001.

"This document we have right now isnít like what we had three years ago, but itís improved," Bowman said.

Others, however, said the area proposed to be included is too small.

"Itís piddley," observed Ketchum resident Mickey Garcia. "But I realizeópolitics. The more you expand it, the more people are going to show up in this room screaming: Not in my backyard."

Ketchum realtor Jed Gray also said the district needs to be broadened to allow developers an opportunity to get on board.

"I donít believe that this restricted area can solve our problem," he said.

One of the Wood River Valleyís foremost developers of residential land, Harry Rinker, said in an interview Tuesday morning he would consider building affordable housing at the 160-acre Perigrine Ranch north of Hailey if the area were included in the overlay zone. Rinker developed the Golden Eagle I and Golden Eagle II subdivisions near Greenhorn Gulch.

"If we had three units to the acre, we would have 450 lots," he said. "I would donate one (lot) for every tenth lot. I would give that to them for free, the only cost to them being the utilities.

"But in order to do that, they would have to amend the ordinance and include the area from Hailey to Ketchum instead of just the small area they have."

Rinker said he isnít going to wait forever.

"If they ever want affordable housing, thatís what theyíre going to have to do to get it," Rinker said. "If theyíre going to send it back (to the P&Z), they might as well forget my offer, because I wonít live long enough."

Blaine-Ketchum Housing Director Dick Duncan said the ideal situation would be one in which the housing overlay would be countywide.

"I think it would have been great to have it run down to Hailey," he said. "Ideally, it should have been countywide. Itís a countywide problem. I think it all boils down to political reality. They want to do something. If you canít have it all, take the first bite and see where you are, I guess."


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