With major changes to county zoning laws looming on the horizon, some 200 citizens packed into the Community Campus auditorium in Hailey last Thursday for the first of seven public hearings related to the Blaine County 2025 process.
The 20 or so public comments issued at the hearing—hosted by the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission to collect public feedback—covered the full spectrum, from unconditional support to complete opposition.
The majority of the citizens, however, expressed support for the overall concept, although many also voiced concerns that the ordinances are faulty and the goals of the community will not be met without significant revisions.
The "Blaine County 2025: Where and How will we Grow?" public outreach campaign was initiated by county commissioners in January 2005 to address future growth and development concerns. At the same time, the commissioners enacted a moratorium on new subdivisions, which is set to expire in July.
The campaign is a joint venture between the county and Clarion Associates, a national land-use and real estate consulting firm with offices in seven U.S. cities.
Two groups that are devoted to "smart growth" and environmentally sound development in Blaine County—Developing Green and Citizens for Smart Growth—spoke out against the ordinances as they are currently proposed.
Martin Flannes, a principal with Developing Green, claims the Blaine County 2025 campaign is "incomplete" and, while he "strongly" supports the goals of the moratorium, "the amendments do very little if anything to achieve them."
Per the public's feedback, the ordinances seek to focus growth in and near the cities; protect natural resources; prevent interference with ranching and farming; and afford landowners a reasonable use of their property.
Ben Sinnamon, executive director of Citizens for Smart Growth, joined Flannes by stating that his group "cannot support the ordinances" in their current form.
"There are many aspects we support, but the package is not complete," Sinnamon said.
Will Miller, an environmental consultant, and Linda Haavik, a former Blaine County planning director, also stated that they have problems with the proposed ordinances.
The comments raised the eyebrows of some at the hearing, since Developing Green, Miller and Haavik are all consultants on a proposed "new town" south of Bellevue. Known as Spring Creek, the development—dreamed up by valley resident Robert Kantor—is billed as a sustainable development with about 1,000 homes near the intersection of U.S. Highway 20 and state Highway 75.
Flannes' partner in Developing Green, Morgan Brown, is a board member for Citizens for Smart Growth.
"The fact they left that relationship out at a public meeting didn't sit well with me," said Linda Thorson, a supporter of Friends of Blaine County, a citizens group that is encouraging public participation, honesty and openness in the 2025 process.
But Flannes said Developing Green's consultation with Kantor has nothing to do with the proposed ordinances.
"The new town concept, Spring Creek, is really not affected by these changes or any other changes," Flannes said. "It will require an entire new plan with the county, and that's not going to happen with the current law."
Blaine County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Michael acknowledged that Spring Creek would require altering the county's comprehensive plan.
"We are consultants to various developers in Blaine County, Camas County, Ada County, and I also have some legal clients in the area," Flannes said. "The suggestion that any time I speak on a proposed zoning change in the county I need to identify all my clients seems (ridiculous)."
Flannes said his comments regarding 2025 are based on Developing Green's principles, and are not driven by a separate agenda.
"It should be done in the most green way possible," Flannes said about the ordinances.
Larry Schoen, chairman of the Blaine County P&Z, said he believes Flannes' concerns are legitimate and are not driven by a hidden agenda.
"It's the difference between the no-growth formula and the smart-growth formula," Schoen said. "Those people are not about no growth or pro growth. The issue for them is how the growth occurs, and they want it to occur along smart-growth principles.
"Everybody is accused of being in the other's hip pocket, but that's not the issue. What these people are upset about is that they feel Blaine County 2025 has not accomplished the regional planning goals."
The P&Z will likely decide by the end of April whether to recommend the ordinances for approval to the Blaine County Commission. If it does so, county commissioners must hold their own set of public hearings before the ordinances become law. Over the next several weeks, the ordinances may undergo significant revisions based on public feedback.
The four proposed ordinances can be viewed on the county's Web site at www.co.blaine.id.us.
2025 ordinances hearings
The Blaine County 2025 ordinances hearings will continue tonight, April 12, and Thursday, April 13. An additional four hearings are scheduled for April 19, 20, 26 and 27. All hearings will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Community Campus auditorium in Hailey.
Additionally, a 2025 open house will be held Thursday, April 13, from 7:30 to 9 a.m. in the Old Blaine County Courthouse.