Meridian City Council

Meridian City Councilman Ty Palmer, Mayor Tammy de Weerd and Councilman Treg Bernt listen to a presentation given at the June 4 council meeting.

MERIDIAN — The Meridian City Council largely agreed Tuesday with the city’s new comprehensive plan and Future Land Use Map, which was criticized last week by rural residents who said the plan doesn’t do enough to protect their neighborhood identities and rural lifestyles.

At Tuesday’s meeting, council members gave recommendations on policies highlighted by city staff — including the elimination of a rural/estate land-use designation and future land use changes to the Magic Bridge area and Black Cat Road/Cherry Lane Railroad corridor.

The council did not vote on specific comprehensive plan policies, but instead agreed upon recommendations to city staff. Council members ultimately voted to continue the public hearing into next month, giving residents an opportunity to comment on the council’s recommendations.

Meridian’s comprehensive plan hasn’t seen a major update since 2011, when the city had about three-quarters of its current population of more than 100,000. The updated plan attempts to respond to that growth and transition Meridian to a more-urban environment by including more high-density and mixed-use residential land uses, plus more industrial designations, but eliminating a rural/estate land use.

Residents who testified at the Nov. 19 public hearing said the plan didn’t do enough to protect the city’s neighborhood identities and rural lifestyles, especially in regards to the rural/estate designation and future land use changes.

Following the public hearing, city staff had a week to make any changes to the plan based on public testimony.

In response to criticism on the proposed elimination of the rural/estate designation, city staff made two changes to the text of the comprehensive plan. First, the changes “beefed up” the low-density designation definition, according to Caleb Hood, Meridian’s Planning Division manager.

The added text says: “These areas often transition between existing rural and urban properties. Developments need to respect agricultural heritage and resources, recognize view sheds and open spaces, and maintain or improve the overall atmosphere of the area. The use of spaces, parks, trails, and other appropriate means should enhance the character of the area.”

Second, planners added a policy that will require new developments built adjacent to existing 5-acre rural/estate properties to include minimum 1-acre lots if “transitional buffers, such as roadways and linear open space, do not exist.”

In the Rustler Place area, for example, 5- to 10-acre properties exist in a low-density area adjacent to a medium-density area. According to the proposed policy, new developments built adjacent to 5-acre properties would have to include homes on 1-acre lots if a road or linear open space doesn’t already exist.

Linear open space can be a park or a pathway, Hood said, and specific requirements for open space would be judged on a “case-by-case basis.”

Despite public criticism, city planners held their ground on their Future Land Use Map proposals for the Magic Bridge area and the Black Cat Road/Cherry Lane Railroad Corridor.

One sticking point in Magic Bridge was the Locust View Heights neighborhood. City staff proposed changing Locust View Heights’ land-use designation from low-density residential to mixed-use residential, allowing for the city and relevant stakeholders “to address service issues, to improve connectivity and to provide new opportunities to capitalize on synergies with healthcare related education and employment,” said a staff report on the comprehensive plan.

Residents of Locust View Heights said they opposed the mixed-use designation at the Nov. 19 public hearing. Locust View Heights is a unique neighborhood that should be preserved, said David Claiborne, a lawyer who spoke at the hearing on behalf of the residents.

“It gives an opportunity for those that enjoy open space in their living area, fresh air, quiet, low traffic and a place where they can have larger animals,” he said. “There’s multi-generation families in the neighborhood, and it’s a neighborhood with a character that provides habitat and buffer between the freeway and more dense development.”

City council members sided with the planners. Council President Joe Borton said a mixed-use designation is the best long-term planning tool for the neighborhood.

“It might be 50 years before any of these properties ever stop being low-density residential, but when that day comes that these properties make their choice to sell and develop, I think their choice will be best fit with a mixed-use neighborhood (designation) in the (comprehensive) plan,” Borton said

Councilman Treg Bernt said Locust View Heights residents have been confused about what the mixed-use designation means.

“There’s been a lot of … emails that we’ve received talking about streets going down the middle of this development or people being forced out of their homes in order for development to occur, and … that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Bernt said. “If you guys choose not to sell your homes, then you can live there for as long as you want. Even if a private developer wants to come in and change it, if you don’t want to sell, you don’t have to sell.”

In the Black Cat/Cherry Railroad Corridor, city staff hopes to change a substantial portion of the area from low-density residential to industrial use. City planning staff recommend a general industrial land-use designation from the railroad tracks north about a half-mile and east of McDermott to West Pine Lane.

The area is home to rural estates and small farms. Eighty-one residents signed a petition opposing the general industrial designation.

Council members chose to compromise by shrinking the proposed industrial area by about half. The industrial-use area will be north of the railroad tracks and east of McDermott to the Purdam Gulch Drain.

The council plans to host another public hearing on the comprehensive plan at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 17. The council may vote on a resolution to approve the plan, as well.

Ryan Suppe is the Meridian reporter for the Idaho Press. Contact him at 208-465-8119. Follow him on Twitter @salsuppe.

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