Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Caution urged for Camas growth plan

Public says officials are moving too fast

Express Staff Writer

Camas County residents think county planners and other officials are moving too fast to implement a new land-use plan.

That was the overwhelming sentiment at a public hearing in Fairfield Tuesday, April 4, on a newly proposed comprehensive plan, a document that would be a framework for future land-use planning decisions.

The topic was obviously of concern to residents and property owners, as some 70 of them crowded into the Fairfield Senior Citizens Center to give official testimony or voice their opinions by applause.

Speaker after speaker urged the county Planning and Zoning Commission to move forward with caution.

"I would encourage this board take a breather," said Fairfield Mayor David Hanks.

"I suggest we move forward in a very slow fashion," said county resident George Martin.

"We have an opportunity to do something, let's do it right," said county resident Claude Ballard,

At stake is the future of Camas County. With just over 1,000 residents, Camas is Idaho's least-populated county. The county, which stretches across more than 1,000 square miles of mostly prairie lands, has a population density of less than one person per square mile.

The vast openness is one of the main things that draws people to the area, county Planning and Zoning Administrator Earl Wilson said Thursday.

But another consideration is economics, as the county faces an anticipated population influx from the Wood River Valley, where land prices have soared the last few years. Some 150 people commute daily from Camas County to higher-paying jobs in Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley, Wilson said.

The county is anxious to implement a new comprehensive plan before a rezoning moratorium expires May 23. Wilson said it is preferable to handle new zoning requests under a new updated plan rather than the existing structure that could potentially allow urban development in areas far removed from Fairfield and other towns.

The proposed comprehensive plan sets the stage for a new zoning map that would promote residential, commercial and industrial growth near towns or areas where utility and emergency services are available. The plan further says the new zones are designed to "have minimal impact upon agricultural uses and protect the surrounding environmental quality."

At the hearing, Ed Smith, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, promised attendees their opinions will be heard.

"We're far from done with the process. Everyone will have an opportunity to talk," he said. "We're going to hear everyone out one way or the other."

Walter Nelson, a Gooding resident who owns property in Camas County, told the commissioners that implementing a new plan is not going to be easy. "I hope you all have thick hides because you're going to need them," he said.

The hearing April 4 was the first of three on the comprehensive plan. The second was April 11 and the third is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 17 at the Fairfield Senior Citizens Center.

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