Ag group questions map used to rezone farmland
By SEAN ELLIS
NAMPA, Idaho -- An Idaho farm coalition is questioning the validity of the map Canyon County commissioners relied on to rezone agricultural land as residential.
Idaho law requires a county's comprehensive plan to include a future land use guidance map.
But the map the county relied on to rezone 380 acres of land south of Lake Lowell from agricultural to residential has no connection to the comprehensive plan, according to the Coalition for Agriculture's Future.
"We went back to the comprehensive plan and there was no map. If there is no map in there, how can they be using a map that suddenly showed up?" said Dick Larsen, a CAF spokesman.
The CAF, which includes 25 of the area's largest ag-related businesses and groups, led a successful effort in 2011 to amend the state's land use planning act to require counties' comprehensive plans to consider agriculture the same as it would any other land use.
The Canyon County planning and zoning board in January voted 5-0 to deny a request to rezone 380 acres of land south of Lake Lowell from agricultural to residential. Canyon County commissioners voted 2-1 in February to overturn the planning and zoning decision and rezone the land.
The CAF opposed the rezone request.
CAF attorney Daniel Steenson of Sawtooth Law sent the county a letter questioning the validity of the map commissioners relied on to make their decision. After thoroughly reviewing all records involved in the county's comprehensive plan update, CAF officials could find no record that the map was adopted.
"In fact, there is no record establishing which map, if any, was adopted as part of the plan," Steenson's letter states.
CAF officials say the bigger issue is that no thoughtful analysis about the impact on agriculture went into a map the county is using to make land use decisions.
Steenson says many of the residential designations on the map are the result of mere windshield surveys of county lands.
"Consequently, the map instills no confidence that its designations reflect appropriate uses of county lands," he states.
When someone makes a decision to replace productive agricultural land with residential or commercial development, "there should be very thoughtful analysis that goes into that," Steenson told the Capital Press.
The CAF has asked the county to stop using the map as a basis for zoning decisions and start a new process to properly adopt a land use map.
Canyon County Commissioner Kathy Alder, a farmer who voted against the rezone request, said the county is researching the CAF's claims and will provide an explanation.
"The map will be dealt with," she said.
Alder said the minutes of public hearings indicate a map was approved as part of the comprehensive plan update and she believes it is the one the county is currently using.
"But that doesn't mean we can't revisit the map," she added. "It doesn't ever hurt to revisit a future land use map."