Getting a Grip on Growth

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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles concerning growth in Gem County.

Growth has been a term used frequently in the Treasure Valley in recent years. Often as a four-letter word. Regardless, it is a phenomenon that has morphed into a nationally recognized and documented reality for this part of Idaho.

To the delight of some and the frustration of others, Emmett and Gem County has not experienced the full force of the changes occurring to the south. The pressure on rent rates and home prices in the county have resulted from the building pressure “over the hill.” Rapid building sprees have yet to inundate the valley, though the pace of new construction has certainly quickened.

Local officials indicate that resisting all of that sustained demand is unlikely.

“It is no longer about whether the growth is coming,” Emmett Mayor Gordon Petrie said. “It is here. Now what do we do about it?”

Getting a grasp on what that growth has the potential to be and what that growth will mean to the future of the mostly rural nature of the county is open for debate. A debate that at times becomes emotion charged and rife with misunderstanding and misinformation.

On January 27 a scheduled public hearing on proposed revisions to five chapters of the Gem County Joint Comprehensive Plan drew such a crowd that it had to be continued until a larger meeting space could be obtained. The continued hearing will be at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 24 at the Emmett Middle School Auditorium.

Messenger Index interviews with numerous attendees at the postponed meeting indicate that they wanted to hear a broader discussion of comprehensive planning issues. The scheduled meeting was focused on five chapters only.

Others voiced an objection to the very existence of a comprehensive plan and their perception that it was a violation of an individual’s property rights and an overreach by local authorities.

For local officials, a comprehensive plan is not their optional creation, it is required by state law.

The Local Land Use Planning Act (LLUPA) was enacted by the Idaho Legislature in the early 1970s. According to the Idaho Land Use Handbook, “LLUPA not only authorizes but demands that every city and county engage in the envisioning process that lies at the heart of sound land use planning and results in the development of a comprehensive plan.”

It further states that “the comprehensive plan has one purpose and one purpose only: to guide planning and zoning decisions.”

The Land Use Handbook’s longer title explains that it is The Law of Planning, Zoning, and Property Rights in Idaho.

It is under that premise that some of the attendees of the Feb. 24 meeting will be addressing proposed changes to the “Private Property Rights” chapter of the Gem County Comprehensive plan.

The history of Gem County’s Comprehensive Plan and details of the proposed changes to these five chapters will appear in the Feb. 19 Messenger Index.

Social media posts in recent weeks have continued to question the validity of the process. Some have aggressively verbally attacked officials for “forcing property onto the city tax rolls.”

Area of Impact

There appears to be confusion among many as to the consequences of an expansion of the City of Emmett Area of Impact and the process of Annexation.

Areas of Impact and Annexation procedures are not the same.

The establishment of a city’s Area of Impact is also a requirement of Idaho Code.

Section 67-6526 states that the purpose of establishing an area of city impact “is to identify logical urban fringe area adjoining the city. The urban fringe area is realizing, or will realize, development pressure that must be planned for in an orderly manner.”

The Code requires cities and counties to negotiate an area of city impact.

Area of impact is an agreement between city/county in regards to development of subdivision, variances, special use permits and planned unit developments (PUD). Fire and law enforcement are not part of the area of city impact agreement. The only time they are affected is if land is annexed, then these services are handled by the city.

According to Mayor Petrie “it comes with an expectation of some growth, striving for a master plan and provides everyone a place at the table when decisions are contemplated.”

A City of Emmett Area of Impact has been in place since the original Emmett City Comprehensive Plan was created in 1975. It has expanded regularly with subsequent updates to the joint city and county plan.

The Area of Impact does not dictate taxation assessments nor impose city fees on property outside the formal boundaries of the city.


To actually move property into the formal boundaries of a city requires an annexation process which usually is initiated by the property owner. Becoming part of the city provides property owners access to some services like sewer and water.

Forced annexation at the initiation of the city can occur, but only under specific circumstances.

Annexation of roadways and public right of ways can occur at the impetus of the city, at the time of annexation to allow for road construction or utility improvements to be consistently completed in a specific area. Public services such as fire and law enforcement jurisdiction can be a driving factor for such change as well.

Code does allow private property completely surrounded by the city to be annexed without change of property ownership. It does not require the private property owner to connect to all city services though they would be made available. Property that is contiguous to the city boundaries could possibly be subject to being encased by requested annexations by all neighboring property owners but still not required to hook up to city services.

The only connection between the Area of Impact and Annexation is that the code provides that “the planning and zoning commissions of Gem County and the city, plus the county commissioners and mayor and city council in establishing the area of impact” take into consideration trade area, geographic factors and areas that can reasonably be expected to be annexed in the future.

Editor’s Note: In coming weeks the Messenger Index will further detail components involved in planning for growth and the tools available to facilitate and fund such planning.

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