Payette County and the cities it contains may take a stab at producing some type of new guidelines — either formal or informal — to aid the county’s land use decision-making in the cities’ areas of impact.

The Payette County Board of Commissioners plans to meet July 8 with City of Fruitland Administrator Rick Watkins, Payette County P&Z Chairman Chad Henggeler, and Patti Nitz, administrator of the county’s Planning & Zoning Department. The meeting is a follow-up to a half-hour discussion the commissioners had June 10 with three county P&Z members and a few people from the cities, including New Plymouth Mayor Beth Earles and a former Fruitland mayor, Ken Bishop.

By the end of the June 10 discussion, the county P&Z contingent had the green light they had sought from commissioners to begin talks with various involved parties.

At issue is the county’s use of county development standards in the impact areas, which are the surrounding areas the cities have legally designated as eligible for annexation. Although the City of Fruitland, in particular, chafes under the county’s unwillingness to apply Fruitland’s own development standards in Fruitland’s impact area, an Idaho Supreme Court decision has previously reinforced counties’ ultimate authority over cities’ impact areas.

Fruitland’s continuing rapid growth fuels city leaders’ concerns about what could happen if decisions affecting parcels along the path of Fruitland’s future expansion don’t take into account the city’s need for uniform infrastructure. While curbs, gutters and sidewalks, for example, are required inside the city, the county is under no compunction to require these safety and drainage provisions immediately outside of the city limits.

On the other hand, cities are under no time limit for annexing anything, and it’s difficult to visualize any likely scenario in which impact area sections that are rather distant from current city limits — perhaps several miles away, as in the case of New Plymouth, which has the largest impact area in Payette County — would be annexed within the next couple of decades or even longer.

One goal of talks would be to allay cities’ worries about county officials’ decisions in the impact areas. At the same time, the county wants to reduce cities’ complaints by having both sides acknowledge that not all sections within an impact area are strong candidates for urban development, so decision-making for these parcels should come under less pressure to add any pricey, city-minded infrastructure.

P&Z Administrator Nitz said she has not participated in the initial talks Henggeler and perhaps two other P&Z members have had with officials from one or more cities following their June 10 discussion with commissioners. She confirmed, however, that commissioners wanted to hear a progress report on those activities on July 8.

Participants’ remarks during the June 10 discussion served as a window, perhaps, to the contemplated direction of the upcoming talks. In addition to Chairman Henggeler, P&Z members Frazer Peterson and Jennifer Riebe were prominent in the discussion.

“This is not a P and Z thing,” Peterson said to the commissioners. “The main thing that we’ve thought about is [in the area of impact] the city makes a recommendation and this particular property may be miles outside of the city. … We talked to the mayor of Payette (Jeff Williams), … and his thought was ‘if it’s not in a zone that we have designated we’re going to do something within a reasonable amount of time, why are we (city) even making a recommendation?’”

Peterson added that one idea “is to have a zone A or one that is contiguous with the city and on the city plan, if say within the next five years [the city] would like to do something with this area. So when they send us a recommendation, we’re going to take a lot of stock in that recommendation, as opposed to one that’s five miles out of town out in the country.”

Fruitland’s Bishop commented, “Having subzones within the designated impact area might be a way to deal with something like that. … A specific impact area may not need to be changed or altered if we can approach it from a standpoint of something a little bit more flexible than that.”

Commissioner Reece Hrizuk offered an additional option for flexibility.

“I can see where a city might want a sidewalk, and the county might say well this isn’t the right area right now. But then the middle ground might be, well let’s have a right-of-way wide enough so in thirty years if that is a city at least they have [room] to come in later and put in a curb and gutter,” Hrizuk said.

Commissioner Marc Shigeta, who cautioned the group that anything short of a county ordinance change, complete with public hearings, wouldn’t pass legal muster in changing the way the county deals with the impact areas, questioned the practicality of New Plymouth’s large impact area.

“Beth [Earles] is here. She inherited a city with a horrendous impact area.” Addressing Earles, Shigeta asked, “What’s the possibility of getting that to a practical level?”

The New Plymouth mayor answered, “I don’t think the city’s willing to give it up. Why would we give up something that we have? Especially if at some time we boom, you know. I think it’s everybody else that has a problem with our impact area, and not necessarily the City of New Plymouth.”

Earles added that it’s not always easy to predict where development will actually occur.

“I think you never know. I think it can always change,” Earles said. “I think we planned on it going north with the industrial park, and the south end seems to be developing a little bit. So you just never know. It just depends on who comes in and starts buying land and developing.”

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