Judge orders anti-development petition to be filed

Stephanie Rael, a farm hand and leader of the Dry Creek Valley Coalition, stands near some of the 1,400 acres of farmland that would be developed as a planned community north of Boise. A judge has ruled that the Ada County, Idaho, clerk must file the coalition's petition, which seeks a vote on the county commission's approval of the development.

BOISE — A judge has ruled that an effort to ask voters to overturn a planned development on 350 acres of irrigated farmland and 1,050 acres of grazing land in the foothills just north of Boise may proceed.

Members of a group called the Dry Creek Valley Coalition want to ask Ada County, Idaho, voters to overturn a Feb. 21 ordinance passed by the Ada County Board of Commissioners that made amendments to the development plan.

They are using a section of Idaho Code that allows people who gather a certain number of signatures to put a county decision that is legislative in nature to a public vote.

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

Boise Hunter Homes, the developer of the $80 million project, asked the court to prohibit Rich from filing the petition.

District Judge Jonathan Medema on Dec. 13 ordered Rich to file the petition. In his written ruling, he said Ada County has granted its citizens “the right to ‘repeal any ordinance.’”

He also said the county decided its clerk shall file any petition with 20 valid signatures and added that the county’s language on this issue is plain.

“The clerk has been given no discretion in that regard,” Medema wrote. “The coalition’s petition contains the proper number and type of signatures. Therefore ... the Ada County clerk is hereby ordered to immediately file the coalition’s petition....”

In a statement, Rael said the group chose to pursue the referendum process because its members believe the community was “deprived of the opportunity to have their voices heard and valued in any meaningful way throughout this process.”

If the petition is approved by the county prosecutor, coalition members will have 180 days to collect the estimated 40,000 signatures it will take to prompt a special election.

BHH officials have told Capital Press that all farmers and landowners in Idaho should be concerned if the petition succeeds because it could threaten their private property rights by allowing any land-use decision made by elected officials to be challenged.

In a statement, BHH attorney Hethe Clark said Medema’s decision only requires Rich to process the petition “and nothing more. They may elect to proceed with gathering signatures for their petition; however, it does not change the fact that Boise Hunter Homes has vested property rights in these approvals that cannot, under Idaho law, be challenged by referendum.”

He said Medema “merely decided that the issue is not yet ripe and will not become so unless and until the coalition obtains more than 40,000 signatures and hoodwinks a majority of county voters into accepting their extremist view that voters can take away an individual property owner’s property rights.”

Clark said BHH is confident that even if the coalition gathers the signatures and prompts a special election, “the courts will prevent this attempt at ‘ballot box zoning’ from having any effect.”

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