Joint commissioners, planning board meeting discovers new planning tool
Development coordinator, gates also discussed.
VIRGINIA CITY - At a joint meeting of the Madison County Commissioners and the county’s Planning Board on Monday, April 30, the commissioners and planners learned about a new tool in the county’s planning arsenal, Wild Planner software.
This software, said Brent Brock, a wildlife biologist with HoloScene Wildlife Services, LLC, examines the impact of land development on wildlife populations.
Brock called the software “another tool in the box,” that could help bring planning decisions down to a previously unknown scale.
Brock explained, using a PowerPoint demonstration, how Wild Planner looks at the impact of siting development, and how this can shift the movement of wildlife like grizzly bears, wolverines or elk into or out of particular areas.
Brock said the software links to GIS systems and a variety of databases that contain information about existing wildlife populations. It then parlays this information into a planning tool, allowing planners to plot developments and visualize the impacts of this on a map.
Brock used the example of placing more homes in an area where elk are known to roam. If development interferes with elk summer or winter range, winter range being a critical factor for these big deer family members, it is more likely that elk numbers will be impacted by this development.
Wild Planner allows planners and developers to see potential outcomes, perhaps using it to avoid conflicts between wildlife populations and people.
Despite the high-technology aspects of Wild Planner, Brock said, nothing trumps “boots on the ground” as an additional information input to make the system truly work.
Brock pointed to his “boots on the ground” examination of an area Wild Planner considered. He found that the area had steep cliffs that focused the movement of elk. When this information was added to Wild Planner’s information, a more complete picture came about, despite the fact that Wild Planner does take into account topography.
In other business, the board and commissioners spent a good deal of time discussing the recently county-approved Development Coordinator position, especially funding this position and if it is truly necessary.
Board member Pat Bradley wondered what the planning board’s options were with the position. She said that asking someone with the experience and expertise required to fill the position for $16,000 seemed to make it a job impossible to fill and questioned if the position was truly needed.
Board member Richard Meehan disagreed, pointing out how developments he was familiar with would require such a position.
Other board members wondered about redundancy with this position, if current employees couldn’t fill the role.
Board President John Fountain noted how the county had gotten along without this position for the last five years. He also noted how he’d witnessed county staff “scrambling” to keep up with existing workloads.
County Planner 1 Leona Stredwick said the position was important for the county, especially when county staff was confronted with pre-construction checks on new development, helping new residents understand existing planning concerns and laws, and dealing with other work on top of existing planning chores.
Board member Jacqueline McCurdy suggested trying a pilot program for the Development Coordinator position, perhaps an AmeriCorps internship effort. Commissioner Jim Hart agreed this might be a good avenue to consider. Stredwick said grants could also be used to fund the position and other government agencies might chip in.
No official action was taken on this.
The board also discussed gates on public and private roads, and some of the issues arising from recent requests for gates.
One issue raised by the board was when a gate was requested for a private subdivision off a public road where the gate blocked access to the homes beyond it.
Board members considered that the litmus test for allowing a gate should be public access lands beyond the gate.
Recommended for approval
- North 40, Phase 4 development in Ennis
- Spanish Peaks overall development plan extension through August of 2018