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‘We have to be smart’: With more growth coming, Canyon Co. looks to preserve farmland in draft plan

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More than 100,000 new people could live in Canyon County by 2040, and county urban planners are working on where to put them. 

Since 2019, Canyon County’s Planning and Development Services Department has been putting together its next comprehensive plan to guide growth and development in Ada County’s booming neighbor for the next decade. The draft plan, called Growing Together, is still in development and is open to feedback from residents, business owners, and other interest groups. It is expected to be voted on in the spring of 2022. 

You can give your feedback hereCanyon County will be hosting workshops on the proposal on February 1 from 8 a.m. to noon, February 8 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m, and February 23 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Canyon County Administrative Building in Caldwell.

As Canyon County grows, planners say the goal for the comprehensive plan is to provide more protection and guidance for different types of agricultural uses throughout the county while keeping urban growth closest to the nine cities within county boundaries. 

[Water woes: Canyon County turns down 35-home subdivision south of Nampa over groundwater concerns]

“Within the entire Treasure Valley, we’re seeing a lot of growth,” Elizabeth Allen, a planner with Canyon County,” told BoiseDev. “We’re seeing the cities expand and (with agricultural uses)… we’re running into more incompatibilities among uses where we can’t keep continuing putting these uses next to each other, but we also need to balance the agricultural uses with the growth we are experiencing. We have to be smart about it, so we don’t end up with a bunch of sprawl and incompatibility.”

What could change?

Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

In the past, Canyon County didn’t differentiate between different types of farms very much. 

Instead of generally allowing agriculture anywhere in the large county, this new draft comprehensive plan categorizes agricultural uses more specifically. 

In the proposal, smaller farms with more limited impact would be placed in a “transition agriculture” zone, which is meant to be a buffer between the more urban cities and the more extensive commercial agriculture operations. The proposed general agriculture zone is designed to “protect and stabilize” the county’s agricultural economy by allowing farming-centric businesses while limiting residential development. More intensive agricultural uses, like feedlots, will be placed in the “exclusive agriculture zone” where residential is only allowed with a conditional use permit, deed restrictions, or another special agreement for an exception. 

Courtesy of Canyon County

The draft plan also calls for a specific overlay zone for the wine region near Caldwell to allow special event centers, businesses, and other specific uses for agri-tourism. 

Canyon County Development Services Steve Fultz said another goal is to keep development near urban areas within the impact areas for the cities. This allows agriculture to keep operating without causing confrontations with residential neighborhoods, and it keeps the cost of services, and property taxes costs, controlled. 

“COMPASS is saying by 2040 we might be looking at an additional 100,000 people in Canyon County, so how do we keep that urban type of growth and development within those corridors where it makes sense where you have the utilities in place, or they are easily extendable?” He said. “We want to be able to be very smart in that growth.”

Concerns from real estate groups, home builders

This plan needs some changes, according to some big players in Canyon County. 

On October 15, Nampa-based Senator Todd Lakey sent a letter to the Canyon County Commissioners on behalf of the Snake River Building Contractors Association, the Nampa Association of Realtors, and the Caldwell Board of Realtors raising some questions about the draft comprehensive plan. The letter praised the commissioners for their service and vowed to offer input on the new plan. 

It didn’t offer specific critiques, but Lakey did refer to the goal of working to “maintain the correct balance of individual property rights and protection of viable farmland.” He said the county’s current comprehensive plan is still working well, and there’s no need to pass it on the county’s schedule for spring because it doesn’t leave enough time for stakeholders, like his group, to give their input and make changes. 

“My clients strongly support the conservative principles of protecting the rights of individual property owners to use their land and promoting the lightest touch of the hand of government in people’s lives,” Lakey wrote in the letter obtained by BoiseDev in a public records request. “They also understand the value in encouraging preservation of prime farmland for continued agricultural use. For at least the past 20 plus years, the county has done a pretty good job of protecting the rights of property owners, allowing development on non-viable farmland, and encouraging preservation of prime ag ground.”

Lakey, nor the Snake River Building Contractors Association responded to a request for an interview to discuss their more specific concerns. The Nampa Association of Realtors told BoiseDev to reach out to the CEO of Idaho Realtors, who did not respond to an email.

Rural living comes with trade-offs

Alan Mills, a real estate broker who lives near Middleton and a member of the Caldwell Board of Realtors, said he is concerned about blanket regulations trying to push development closer to urban areas. He said any zoning plan should allow for residential development on agricultural land on parcels that won’t support farming, either due to the lack of water or bad soil. 

He praised Fultz’s work on the project and was optimistic changes could be made. 

“We have cases out here north of Middleton and other areas that don’t have any water rights, and it’s really poor ground,” Mills, a former Canyon County Planning Commissioner, said. “…The widely accepted rule (in the past) was to utilize the poor ground for something other than ag, so hobby farms and hobby farmers who like to do outdoor activities can use that for a better purpose than the farmer who can’t even farm it. Those areas don’t always lie in the right place though, i.e. impact areas.”

When asked about how developments far from city centers are more expensive to provide fire, police, and parks services to, Mills said people who live in these areas accept the tradeoffs. He said landowners like himself with large lots do not need to go to a park or use recreation programs because they spend time outside on their property. And if it takes a little more time for a first responder to come to his home if he calls 911, then so it goes.  

“Where is your high crime?” he said. “The crime is concentrated in high-density areas to a huge degree, and I am still paying the (Canyon County) sheriff for that type of thing. I have been 31 years in the house I am in, and I haven’t called any of them yet, nor the fire department. When they’re called out there, I will accept they will take three minutes more to get to me than they would downtown. That’s a tradeoff.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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