TWIN FALLS — Murtaugh wants to make four changes regarding its area of impact. The Twin Falls County Planning and Zoning Commission moved Nov. 14 to not recommend three of them for approval by the Twin Falls County Commission.
Three of the proposed changes would give Murtaugh control over agriculture parcels greater than 20 acres within its area of impact, reduce the need for an area of impact representative for planning and zoning decisions and expand the city’s area of impact south of U.S. Highway 30 to Murtaugh Lake.
The first ordinance change question wasn’t controversial. There is a long rectangular piece of property in the northeast corner of Murtaugh’s area of impact. The Gebauer family owns that land, and would like to be excluded from the area of impact. The Planning and Zoning commission recommended that the county grant that request.
The other three requests were more contentious.
The request that drew the most negative feedback was the city’s proposal to expand its area of impact south of U.S. Highway 30 to Murtaugh Lake. The city’s existing area of impact stops on the north side of the highway.
The Twin Falls Canal Company wants to see that land remain outside of the area of impact, in the county’s jurisdiction. Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Jay Barlogi recused himself as a commissioner during the Murtaugh portion of Thursday’s Planning and Zoning meeting, and spoke as a representative of the canal company.
Barlogi explained that Murtaugh Lake is critical for Magic Valley agriculture, holding 8,000 acre feet of water. It’s the water source for 300 square miles of irrigated land. Additionally, it’s 115 years old, and earthen, which means it’s not as safe as it could be. It seeps a fair amount.
If Murtaugh allows new development on the land directly next to the lake, those properties would be at high risk were the dam to break, Barlogi said. The canal company needs to have a clear path to the dam if there’s an emergency — new houses could impede the company’s ability to respond. Plus those homes would be obliterated in the event of a breach. There are about nine houses in the proposed addition already.
“We’re very concerned,” Barlogi said. “We think (expanding the city next to the dam) is a poor vision.”
Louise Ward is a real estate broker who lives in Murtaugh. She spoke at the meeting in favor of Murtaugh’s proposed changes, on behalf of two different clients who live in the proposed addition, and want to divide their land in ways not allowed by the county.
If the land between the highway and the lake were added to the area of impact, her clients would be able to split up their properties because the area of impact ordinances — in this case effectively the Murtaugh city ordinances — would allow it. That would make it easier to sell the properties, she said.
One of Ward’s clients owns a significant amount of farmland in the proposed area of impact addition area. She said that family has no intention of building a subdivision “in their lifetimes,” and that the children who will inherit the land also plan on holding onto it.
But Barlogi said the Planning and Zoning Commission has to look decades into the future when it makes its decisions, and can’t depend on a family’s intentions to not develop.
“We have to worry about the people that own this land after the family,” Barlogi said.
He also noted that the land in front of the dam has been farmed for 115 years.
“It needs to stay ag land,” he said.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Michael Wucinich voted against the proposed area of impact addition, in part because of his fears about the dam.
“It scares the living heck out of me,” Wucinich said of the possibility of new housing next to the dam. “It makes me very nervous.”
Mychel Matthews lives near Murtaugh and Murtaugh Lake. Her house is just east of the proposed area of impact expansion, and she doesn’t want to see the area become more developed. Matthews is the sister of Planning and Zoning Commissioner Rocky Matthews and a reporter for the Times-News.
A city’s area of impact is supposed to be the land on which a city intends to expand in the reasonable future, Matthews said. There has been no indication that the city intends to grow all the way to the dam anytime soon.
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“The City of Murtaugh has stated at public hearings that it has no intention of expanding the city limits south of U.S. Highway 30,” she said.
Murtaugh Mayor Dee Hunsaker said the city wants to have input on what gets built in the proposed area of impact addition.
“We’re not saying that (expansion to the proposed area of impact addition) is going to happen tomorrow, or it’s going to happen in two years, or five years, or maybe even 10 years,” Hunsaker said. “All we’re saying is that we, as the city, would like to have some kind of say.”
Hunsaker did not respond to the Times-News’ requests for comment before or after the meeting.
Bad for business?
If the land between U.S. Highway 30 and Murtaugh Lake becomes part of the Murtaugh area of impact, roughly nine families will see their planning and zoning rules change.
For Nathan and Lorri Belloli, that’s a major concern. They’re new to Murtaugh, and intend on raising exotic meat animals. They only have 1.5 acres of property, and under county ordinances, they have no concerns about the number of animals they can raise on their land. They’re worried that the new area of impact ordinances would be a death knell for their future plans, and limit their ability to raise animals.
“This would virtually make this property useless to us,” Nathan Belloli said. “We have to have the county laws for us to be able to pursue the business we want to pursue … If this goes through, we’re kind of done.”
Loss of representation?
Murtaugh currently has a requirement that its Planning and Zoning Commission include a representative from its area of impact. In theory, that member would join the City Council — which doubles as the Planning and Zoning Commission in Murtaugh — for zoning decisions. But the city says it hasn’t been able to find anyone willing to fill that role in years.
Because of that, the city wants to remove the requirement for an area of impact Planning and Zoning representative, and have the City Council officially make Planning and Zoning decisions on its own.
Murtaugh City Attorney Nathan Fowler said the city has never had an official Planning and Zoning Commission due to a lack of volunteers. He said removing the area of impact representative requirement is important for legal reasons.
“The problem is, if you have that requirement, you have people who come forward and say, ‘City Council, everything that you’ve done is illegal because you’re not following what the area of impact ordinance says,’” Fowler said. “And we’ve had people do that … That’s why we’re asking to have it removed.”
Fowler said that Filer, Hansen and Hollister’s City Councils all double as their Planning and Zoning Commissions, with Twin Falls County approval.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Rocky Matthews said he doesn’t like the proposed change because it would eliminate area of impact residents’ representation for Planning and Zoning decisions.
For instance, the city of Twin Falls Planning and Zoning Commission has appointed area of impact representatives, even though they don’t vote in City Council elections.
It’s unfair for Murtaugh’s area of impact residents to officially lose their representative, even if they haven’t had one historically, Rocky Matthews said. He said the Murtaugh City Council, which does not represent area of impact residents, will be making decisions that affect those residents.
“(The city is) wanting to have no representation in the impact area,” Rocky Matthews said.
Fowler disagreed. He said that, while the area of impact would primarily reflect city ordinances, those within it still elect county commissioners, and would be able to appeal Murtaugh Planning and Zoning decisions to the County Commission.
Ultimately, the Planning and Zoning Commission moved to not recommend three of the four proposed changes for approval by the County Commission. Planning and Zoning Commissioner Steve Maughan was the lone dissenting vote, and expressed a desire to try to amend Murtaugh’s requests in a way that allowed the commission to recommend their approval to the commissioners.
Murtaugh’s proposal will now appear before the County Commission.