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The Eccles Flying Hat Ranch between Bellevue and Hailey has been a flashpoint for development issues for Bellevue and Hailey for many years.

A long-anticipated annexation request from the Eccles family to bring a large portion of the Flying Hat Ranch into the Bellevue city limits appears to be off the table, despite efforts by city planners to accommodate such a development.

“It does surprise me,” said Bellevue City Councilman Doug Brown, who brought up the subject at a recent City Council meeting. “It’s disappointing to me because I was an advocate of getting involved with Eccles. It was going to be huge long-term benefit for the citizens of Bellevue.”

Years ago, the Eccles requested annexation into Hailey but withdrew the application amid some pushback from city officials. The Eccles made an annexation request to Bellevue in 2014, supplying the city with a preliminary land use plan that apparently could have included big box stores. That application, for about 227 acres on the east side of highway 75, was approved by the Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission but led to a backlash from some Bellevue citizens and the city of Hailey over such sizeable commercial developments.

Evan Robertson, attorney for the Eccles, said the 2014 plan was “not favorably received.”

“The city asked Eccles Flying Hat Ranch to come back with another land use plan, and that is where it stands now,” Robertson said.

Yet considerable staff time and political effort has gone into accommodating an annexation of the land on the Flying Hat Ranch between Hailey and Bellevue over the last six years. The property is made up of agricultural fields with many grazing cattle.

The elected leadership of Bellevue changed as a result of the contentious 2014 annexation request, the city’s comprehensive plan was rewritten, and legal differences over the area of city impact maps for Bellevue and Hailey led to a final determination by Blaine County in Bellevue’s favor.

Bellevue Community Development Director Diane Shay said a modification to the original 2014 request was made in 2016 that included property on the west side of the highway.

“The applicant was asked to provide additional plans and asked to focus their efforts on the east side of the highway. Since that time, we’ve not seen any applications or requests from them to proceed or withdraw,” Shay said.

Robertson said the Eccles group has communicated with the city “from time to time” over the years, including when the city made efforts to alter the ACI map and revise the comprehensive plan.

“Both of those actions could have had impacts on the property,” Robertson said. “But there have been no negotiations with the city. I don’t know of any activity currently with regard to a revised land use plan.”

Today, thanks to the area of city impact determination, nearly the entire area between the two cities on the east side of state Highway 75 could likely be annexed into Bellevue. Despite a building and housing shortage valley-wide, there have been “no developments” with regard to the Eccles annexation, said Mayor Ned Burns at a recent City Council meeting.

The city recently passed an overlay district that would allow for apartment buildings in the downtown core and in residential neighborhoods, an indication that city planners and leaders aren’t waiting for an annexation to provide more growing room.

Brown said an annexation of the Eccles property could still be a boon to the city.

“The city needs more revenue, and you get more revenue from smart growth,” he said. “That’s what we would get from being a partner with the Eccles, light industrial zoning and residential. Most importantly, family housing.”

It is uncertain whether or not the Eccles ranch or another area on the outskirts of town could soon bring a development plan to the city. Burns said there have been conversations taking place with “prospective developers” who have asked for confidentiality as they do their due diligence.

“If and when an application is made it will become public information,” Burns said. We are cleaning up our old, complicated building code and replacing it with more modern easy to understand, easy to follow processes. If it entices a developer to make an application, then we did good work.”

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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