Decision expected soon on proposed Dry Creek Valley petition

A district judge is expected to issue a written decision soon on whether a county clerk must file a petition that seeks to ask voters to overturn a county ordinance that paves the way for a major development on 1,400 acres of agricultural ground north of Boise.
Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Published on October 24, 2017 11:00AM

Some of the farmland in this May 19 photo would make way for an $80 million planned development in the Dry Creek Valley north of Boise. Some people opposed to the development are trying to force the issue to a public vote and a judge’s ruling on that attempt is expected soon.

Sean Ellis/Capital Press

Some of the farmland in this May 19 photo would make way for an $80 million planned development in the Dry Creek Valley north of Boise. Some people opposed to the development are trying to force the issue to a public vote and a judge’s ruling on that attempt is expected soon.

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Capital Press

BOISE — A court ruling is expected soon on a proposed petition that seeks to halt an $80 million planned development in the Dry Creek Valley north of Boise that is opposed by some farmers and other local residents.

The development would be built on 350 acres of irrigated farmland and 1,050 acres of grazing land.

A group called the Dry Creek Valley Coalition is trying to stop the development and save the farm ground. To do that, they hope to use a section of Idaho Code that allows for citizens to put a county decision that is legislative in nature to a vote during a special election.

After Ada County Clerk Christopher Rich rejected an initial petition to start the referendum process, Dry Creek Valley Coalition founder Stephanie Rael, a local farm hand, filed a lawsuit that seeks to force Rich to file the petition.

The issue has ended up in the courtroom of District Judge Jonathan Medema.

Rael has asked Medema to issue a writ ordering Rich to file the petition, which would begin the process that could result in a special election.

Coalition members want to ask voters to overturn a Feb. 21 ordinance passed by the Ada County Board of Commissioners that made amendments to the development plan. They say that because it made changes to the original 2010 plan approved by the county, it is legislative in nature and subject to the referendum process.

Rael’s petition met all the requirements of Idaho Code, said Brian Ertz, an attorney representing the coalition.

“My client is entitled to the filing of that petition,” he said Oct. 20 during a packed hearing in Medema’s courtroom.

Attorneys for Boise Hunter Homes, the developer, have asked Medema to issue a writ ordering Rich not to file the petition.

BHH attorney Geoffrey Wardle said the ordinance passed by the commissioners is quasi-judicial and not legislative and thus not subject to a referendum.

“The key issue is whether or not Ordinance 864 is in fact eligible for a petition for referendum,” he said. He said the ordinance is a “technical update and a revision of an ordinance that was adopted a long time before.”

“The reality is that ordinance is quasi-judicial” and a clerk has no authority to file a petition for a referendum on an act that is not legislative in nature, Wardle said.

BHH owner Jim Hunter has told Capital Press that all farmers and landowners in Idaho should be concerned about this case because if the referendum were to move forward, people could use that process to undo any land-use decisions made by city councils and commissions.

That would amount to ballot-box zoning and strip them of their property rights, he said.

BHH has met all of the requirements associated with the development and the petition is “an attempt to roll back the approval the county has given us,” Hunter said during the packed hearing.

Medema said he would issue a written decision as quickly as possible.



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