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A map of the proposed 10 homes in Phase 5 of the Crown Ranch subdivision in Elkhorn.

The Sun Valley Planning and Zoning Commission has given nine-tenths of an OK to a proposed 10-house development in Elkhorn.

The commission on Thursday approved a preliminary plat for the fifth phase of the Crown Ranch subdivision, despite protests from some neighbors who worried the new homes would get in the way of the neighborhood’s scenic views.

The P&Z also approved design review for the development, with a compromise intended to appease those neighbors. Nine of the proposed single-family houses got the commission’s stamp of approval, but developers will have to come back with a new design proposal for the tenth house—the building with the greatest potential to obstruct mountain and hillside views.

This wasn’t the first time an application for the fifth phase of Crown Ranch had come before the commission. A design proposal for 11 townhouse units was rejected in July after neighbors voiced similar concerns. Since then, the design had been tweaked—using feedback from the community—to reduce the number of units to 10.

“It’s a difficult job to make everything work for everyone, so we’re trying to do what we can,” said applicant Layne Thompson, president of Magleby Construction, representing the applicant, IEG Elkhorn. “We feel like we’ve made some long strides in that direction.”

But some neighbors who oppose the development said those strides haven’t been long enough, and they questioned whether any development on the land would ever be able to comply with city code.

Much of the discussion at Thursday’s meeting revolved around whether the project is in line with the city’s hillside ordinance, which protects the scenic character of the town from the impact of development on hillsides, ridges and other natural features, along with protecting the “natural skyline.”

The proposal “both complies and doesn’t comply with the hillside ordinance, depending on how you want to read it,” P&Z Chairman Ken Herich said.

The highest point of some of the proposed houses would be about 12 feet higher than a ridgetop to the south, meaning that while the new buildings wouldn’t be visible from some of the frequently trafficked lower-elevation public spots in the area, they would be visible from some nearby homes—particularly homes whose main living quarters and decks are on the second floor.

If neighboring homes “lose significant views, house values go down,” Sun Valley resident Jim Fletcher told the commission.

“It’s really not about how good or nice the development is,” Fletcher said. “It’s about whether this development fits the development code of Sun Valley.”

By approving the proposal, another Sun Valley resident said, the commission would be “[opening] a Pandora’s box,” giving developers “an open door to continue to build higher and higher in the Elkhorn area.”

Thompson acknowledged that the buildings may be in the eyeline of some neighbors. But a certain amount of visibility is unavoidable, he said, adding that the designers put a greater focus on what the general public would be able to see than on neighbors’ views.

“Is the intent of new development and new construction to never be seen by any other location, or is that allowable?” Thompson said. “Of course we’re going to be viewed by other locations and we’re trying to do that in as sensible and minimal-impact a way as possible.”

Commissioners Bill Boeger and Sherri Newland said they felt that in general, the applicants had done a good job of minimizing the development’s impact in the new design. But both had concerns about the tenth building in the proposal and “maybe looking at how to make that a little softer,” as Newland put it, to further minimize the building’s effect on views.

Thompson suggested that the commission approve the design except for the last building, for which the applicants will submit a new proposal at a later date. The commission ultimately agreed to the suggestion.

“If it looks like we’re going to stall out because of that one unit,” Thompson said, “I’d rather get the ball rolling elsewhere.”

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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