TWIN FALLS — No one could have predicted Chobani’s 2012 entrance into the area when Twin Falls County put together its comprehensive plan 10 years ago. But the introduction of the food manufacturing giant changed the overall character in and around the town.
What Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter coined as the “Chobani effect” was unprecedented growth in both housing and commercial development, narrowing the divide between urban and rural lifestyles.
Is Twin Falls County ready for impending collisions in that urban-rural interface?
“No,” County Commissioner Don Hall said. “The county has been playing catch-up ever since.
“Because we have had such tremendous development in the area, the county’s land use plan has not caught up,” Hall said. “We need to make the plan better to reflect what is happening now and for the future.”
It’s time to revisit the county’s comprehensive plan, said the first-term commissioner who served for more than a decade on the Twin Falls City Council, including two terms as mayor.
What is a comprehensive plan?
An intimate relationship exists between a city’s or a county’s comp plan and its zoning codes.
The “comp plan is the vision, and the zoning codes are the blueprints,” Jonathan Spendlove, P&Z director for the city of Twin Falls, previously told Times-News.
Across the Snake River, Jerome County P&Z Administrator Nancy Marshall agrees.
“The comp plan says ‘this is how we view ourselves,’ and then we make ordinances based on that,” Marshall said. But she prefers another analogy, comparing the comp plan/zoning code relationship to moving into a new house.
“You decide what goes on each floor in the comp plan,” she said. “But the zoning codes say which rooms things go in.”
Jerome County is in the final stages of updating its comprehensive plan, which Commissioner Charlie Howell calls the legacy of Planning and Zoning Commission’s retired administrator Art Brown.
The Jerome County Commission will hold on Dec. 10 its first public hearing on the proposed plan. The plan has already been scrutinized by the P&Z, Marshall said Monday.
As far as zoning changes go, some areas around the Snake River Canyon rim in Jerome County could change from preservation zones to recreational zones that would support tourism and recreation, she said.
In addition, the county “stripped out all the facts and figures” in the plan and moved the charts to appendices. In the future, the appendices can be updated without rewriting the whole plan.
“The changes to the plan are minimal,” she said, “because, in reality, the vision of the county hasn’t changed.”
A bigger job
However you look at it, a comprehensive plan is a unique representation of what each populace sees collectively for itself.
“That’s why we need people to get involved,” Hall said.
Twin Falls County is facing a much larger job than Jerome has faced.
“We’re still fairly rural,” Marshall said. “And our comp plan reflects the rural nature of our community.”
In comparison, about half the people in Twin Falls County live within the city limits of Twin Falls.
While more than 1,500 residential lots await purchase in the city, Hall said, subdivisions continue to eat up prime agricultural ground
“Where do we want new industries? Where do we want to live? Where do we want to recreate? And how do we keep the agricultural base of the county viable?” Hall asks.
While a critical part of the plan, land use is only one of 17 components that, by state law, must be addressed. Others include public utilities, transportation and property rights.
The county has chosen the consultant firm Orion Planning + Design out of Missoula, Mont., to oversee the process, said Jon Laux, P&Z community development director.
“They are going to analyze the current plan,” Laux said, “to see where we have gone since the last plan.”
A thorough audit of the comprehensive plan will determine whether the plan needs a simple update, a full rewrite or a combination of the two, he said. Laux expects Orion’s audit to take about six months.
“Then we’ll have a recommendation.”