Thirteen miles west of St. Anthony is a small intersection, Crapo Corners, on the Parker Highway near the famed eastern Idaho sand dunes.
This non-descript intersection has nothing to offer the passers-by, but to the development committee that has been revamping the Fremont County development code, there’s potential.
Stephen Loosli, Fremont County Planning Department administrator and economic development officer, said that’s why counties and cities have development codes – to select sites where they want to direct growth and industry.
“We used to have three industries, agriculture, tourism and timber,” he said. “When we lost the timber – two to three decades ago – we’ve not found a third leg to our area.”
Crapo Corners is earmarked as tourism/recreation location. It’s there that the county wants recreation-minded industry or tourism to ignite.
“We just think if there is something recreation oriented, and we designate it, someone will want to build there,” he said.
Fremont County straddles I-15 and the Yellowstone Highway. It’s main towns of Ashton, St. Anthony, Newdale and Teton remain small and particularly unchanged for the past 20 to 30 years. The county planning and zoning has operated 16 years on a boilerplate from a college professor who toured through the state recommending land management.
“For the most part we want to be selective to the types of businesses that we permit there,” Loosli said. “We want the businesses to tell us why the county is the place to have them.”
The new development code, up for approval this month, dictates in greater detail what the county will and will not allow on its agriculture lands, specifies distinct densities of housing, and helps portray the county as a growing economic center.
Opposition to the development code is stiff, but not to the point of full-out opposition. Douglas Siddoway, an attorney and spokesman for the Fremont County Grow Smart Coalition, said the plan is needed.
“The plan does a good job of setting up zones in the commercial areas,” he said from his cellular phone. “We have no problem with growth in the existing areas. Small towns should all be up for development and commercialization.”
The opposition comes in the county’s designation of agricultural development. The group is opposed to sprawl onto historic farmlands in the region.
“We just feel they need to respect the defined agricultural areas more,” he said. The Siddoway family has been a strong agricultural presence in the region for years.
And, Loosli agrees that the agricultural land needs to be protected, but the county needs employers.
“It’s part of the county commissioners’ every discussion for the past few years; they meet and they talk about this all the time,” he said. “This county needs jobs.”
The county has already talked about offering incentives, but they don’t base their new development code on those.
“Take a look at Coeur d’Alene,” he said. “We’re every bit as much a recreation area as they are.”
The county hopes with the right zoning and planning documents to bring a Patagonia, an L.L. Bean, or another recreational manufacturer to the region.
“We’ve got as much recreation opportunity – as close – as any place in the nation, especially with Yellowstone so close,” he said.
Kootenai County commissioners in northern Idaho approved a comprehensive plan to guide growth last month. They too have been working off a 16-year-old boilerplate model, as well. They too have naysayers who claim the plan is ineffective in representing the needs for the entire county.
Each county in the state is working to find the right key to success in bringing new jobs, growth and development to its region. Each city is looking at what programs and activities can be altered, reduced or eliminated to make sure its residents are covered. In each case, updating and changing may be all that we can hope for in the coming year.
Robb Hicken is managing editor of the Idaho Business Review.