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Subdivision pace called overwhelming

| October 7, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

Lincoln County is undergoing such rapid growth that there's often no time for officials to make on-site subdivision inspections, and a county commissioner predicts increased conflicts between people and wildlife.

"It's become overwhelming," said Lincoln County planner Ken Peterson.

Twenty years ago the county would receive three or four subdivision plat applications annually. On Wednesday, 28 such applications went before the county planning commission, and Peterson said it's routine for 15 to 20 to be filed each month.

Activity has picked up significantly in the last year or two, he said. Much of the pressure comes from previous subdivisions being divided again.

"They are getting smaller and there's more of them," Peterson said. "We don't have time to do the in-depth reviews that are necessary. That is a problem."

Instead of visiting the subdivisions in person, he has to rely on existing aerial photos to survey vegetation and topography. Peterson is further squeezed by a state law that says local government bodies must make a decision to approve or deny major subdivisions within 60 working days and decide about smaller ones within 35 working days.

Between 4,000 and 5,000 acres were sold in central Lincoln County during the past year, much of it previously owned by Plum Creek timber company.

"For a long time, subdivision activity was only in Tobacco Valley," Peterson said. "The county is going to need a growth policy because of the amount of land being developed in rural areas. The situation is changing."

The state has set an October 2006 deadline for cities and counties to develop management plans, including guidelines for growth. Lincoln County Commissioner John Konzen said that might mean allowing fairly dense housing close to cities but restricting subdivisions to larger lots farther away.

Many subdivision parcels these days are cutting 160-acre sections into 23-acre lots, he said. That's because state law does not require water reviews on lots larger than 20 acres.

Besides changing the character of Lincoln County, there's also a safety factor involved as development increases. Wildlife travel corridors will be broken up, increasing the chance of trouble between residents and bears or other wildlife, Konzen said.

"This concerns me," he said.

County commissioners are acknowledging the situation by trying to hire an extra staff member for the planning department.

"It's becoming more than I can handle," Peterson said.