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Commissioners say no to affordable homes near farmland

Two major growth issues facing the Treasure Valley came to a head in Canyon County last week: farmland preservation and the need for affordable housing.

The Board of Canyon County Commissioners heard public testimony Aug. 5 on a rezone and comprehensive plan amendment request to turn 36 acres of farmland into 23 affordable housing units.

The three-person board, made up of one farmer, ultimately denied the request, leaving the piece of land in the Sunnyslope wine region for farming.

A ‘done deal,’ not done

The rezone had seemed like “a done deal,” a county planner told the Idaho Press — it seemed like the board would accept the application. This was until the board heard lengthy testimony from two farmers who work the adjacent orchard, owned by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Daniel Bair is a managing farmer on the Caldwell Idaho Orchard, a nearly 300-acre orchard that supplies the church’s welfare system with cherries, peaches, apricots, apples, plums and alfalfa. The orchard borders the 36 acres up for rezone.

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“I am not opposed to development, but when I hear new houses coming in I think about things being more difficult on the farm,” Bair told the commissioners.

The proposed development is on the northwest corner of Apricot Lane and Sunnyslope Road in Caldwell.

Bair said the land is currently being farmed and is growing corn.

In a letter to the Canyon County Planning and Zoning Commission, Greg Troost, who owns the 36 acres and requested the rezone and amendment, said he understands the need to preserve agricultural land in the county, as he is the owner of T&T Cattle near Parma. But he said he hoped to address the county’s need for affordable housing.

Troost’s goal was to fulfill the specific need for housing for agriculture workers.

Concern about complaints and pesticide

The intent of the development was to provide 1 acre lots with manufactured homes that would be affordable and would qualify for rural residential loans at reduced interest rates.

Bair’s worry was not about the nature of the houses, but about what comes along with any residential development next to a farm, such as noise complaints and pesticide spray.

The orchard sprays pesticides nearly all summer, Bair said, before it begins harvest in August. The orchard also uses wind machines in the field that run from about 11 p.m. to 9 a.m.

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There are a few other houses, built in the 1940s and ‘50s, surrounding the orchard, and there have been only a couple of squabbles, Bair said. Once someone turned off the orchard’s wind machine, leading to a significant loss of fruit.

Bair worried that with 23 new families, the orchard would see a rise in these types of conflicts and complaints and would be at a higher risk of losing crops to bugs.

Attorney: Orchard ‘critical’

In the first public hearing about the property on June 10, Loyal Hulme, an attorney for the LDS church, said the orchard was critical to the church’s welfare system; fruits grown in the Caldwell orchard are distributed throughout the world.

The orchard provides over 70 semi-truck loads of fruit to Feeding America, Steven Bair, Daniel Bair’s father, said in his testimony. The orchard also has a cannery in Garden City, where fruits are canned and sent throughout the world.

The proposed development would negatively impact the orchard’s operations, and thus impact its output of fruit, the Bairs said.

The Canyon County Planning and Zoning Commission on Dec. 11 recommended denying the applicant’s request, writing that it was not compatible with the surrounding agricultural land.

Greg Bullock, who represented the Troost Family Living Trust, disagreed with the commission and pointed out that the property is adjacent on two sides to houses.

Bullock also questioned the motivation of the church.

“How can you be in favor of feeding the poor and then on the other hand say, ‘We are not excited about affordable housing being near our properties?’” he said. “Twenty-three more home sites are not going to shut down the orchard.”

“It is about giving 23 more people a chance to own their own home,” Bullock said.

Commission makes its call

During the final decision-making, Commissioner Leslie Van Beek, who works on a farm herself, immediately said she was against the development.

“This is not about affordable housing, this is about protecting agriculture land. This area should continue to be (agricultural) land,” she said.

Commissioners Tom Dale and Pam White were torn between the two sides throughout the nearly three-hour hearing.

Both said multiple times that they supported affordable housing, and understand the need for it within the county, yet they also felt the agriculture land in the Sunnyslope region needed to be preserved.

In the end, the two undecided commissioners joined Van Beek in voting no on the development.

“As much as we need affordable housing, whether it is for farmworkers or station attendants, truck drivers or Fred Meyer employees, we need affordable housing for people in this valley, but this is not the place that is compatible for that,” White said.

Earlier this month, the commission did approve a rezone and comprehensive plan amendment for a 130-acre housing and commercial development on agricultural land north of Lake Lowell.

The project faced opposition from neighbors, who successfully filed a court petition to have the commission rehear the application. The development, at the southwest corner of Karcher and Farmway roads, is slated to have 74 single-family houses and 36 acres of commercial development.

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