Next Monday, at 6 p.m. in the county commissioner's room, the county will hold a public hearing on its proposed new zoning ordinances for the county.
I can't encourage enough anyone who has concerns about the county's future land uses to attend the hearing and offer their comments (the ordinances can be found on the county's website).
Personally, I think the county planning and zoning commission overall did a good job in developing such a massive revision of the ordinances. But the P&Z and the county commissioners both know that no plan is perfect. They are genuinely looking forward to hearing the comments that they hope will fix any holes they've missed, or which will adjust the rules they're proposing.
One of the areas I focused on when I was looking at the ordinances, and one on which I have had several phone call comments, concerns the possibility of locating a nuclear power plant in Elmore County.
Now most of the county is/will be zoned Ag. But it is in the nature of such land that that's where most growth will occur. Ultimately, much of that land will eventually become the home of some other use, such as residential or industrial. That's just the way things are. The new ordinances reflect that reality, and some uses, such as the nuclear power plant, which formerly would have required a rezone and then a conditional use permit, will now just require a CU in the Ag zone, removing a layer of bureaucracy and paperwork. Those uses are found in the "matrix" of allowed and conditional uses in the zoning ordinance. If you don't read anything else, look at the matrix chart.
Some of the allowed or conditional uses make a lot of sense. A small private airport, a dog kennel, stables, even fuel storage facilities, seem compatible with what would likely remain adjacent agricultural uses. It makes sense to remove the rezone requirements.
And even some electrical generating facilities, such as wind power, solar power and hydrothermal power plants, also would seem to have minimal impacts.
But I think it may be appropriate for some things to require the rezone as well. Coal-fired power plants, nuclear plants, concrete manufacturing plants, even some plants that process agricultural products, for example, have much greater impacts -- their "footprint" of impact on surrounding land and quality of life is considerable. Most of those examples, I believe, should still require some form of industrial use rezone (as well as CUs) before being approved.
So I would suggest the county seriously review the conditional uses that would be allowed in an Ag zone without a rezone, and make some alterations to the use matrix. I also believe that some uses, such as a nuclear power plant or coal-fired power plant, should have their own line in the matrix, rather than simple falling in a general, and vaguely defined, power production facility definition.
I'm also a little concerned about the lack of hazardous material control in industrial zones and where the county is hoping to direct industrial uses, in general. Mainly, the county would like to see them located in the Simco Road area. In many ways, it's not a bad area, except for one thing -- water.
Water is the limiting factor for all land uses in Idaho, and as the county and state grows, the availability of water is rapidly approaching a finite limit. The Simco Road area is either in or near what has already been described as a critical groundwater area, where uses already are restricted. And since typical industrial uses tend to use large amounts of water, that may not be the best place to try and direct such development.
Industrial uses typically bring well-paying jobs that the county can surely use, but it seems to me that the Simco Road area, as the preferred place for such uses, would impose an unnecessary limit on such growth. It wouldn't be long before the ability to provide water in that area would be exhausted, and other areas of the county would have to be designated and opened up for such future uses.
The county should start looking now at some other appropriate area to develop as an industrial core. Off the top of my head, I would think somewhere near a rail line between Mountain Home and Glenns Ferry (so both communities could benefit from the jobs that would be created), should be designated on the county's comprehensive plan as the preferred location for future industrial development.
That's my two cents worth. There are people out there who've probably got three cents worth of ideas.
But like I said last week, now is the ideal time to bring those ideas and concerns forward. Over the next year, the county expects to make a number of changes in the ordinances it currently is proposing. Getting your ideas in now would be a good time and place to start.
Because in order to have a government "for the people," you need to first have one "of and by" the people. That means getting involved. And you'd be pleasantly surprised at how often local governments actually pay attention to a good idea.