Visonary thinking shows that conservation and strategic placement of community housing are not only possible, but mutually beneficial. 

Restoring a property for the benefit of people and environment

Hailey Greenway Bullion cnnxnRecently, the Land Trust acquired a 15-acre riverfront property in Hailey, Idaho as an opportunity to provide affordable housing as well as restore and protect that portion of the Big Wood River and its surrounding habitats. 

The property spans across a section of the Big Wood River. On the east side of the river, next to an existing neighborhood of single family homes, the site of an old sawmill inspired an opportunity.  The Land Trust sees this part of the parcel as a prime candidate for orderly growth, a term used to describe the development of parcels of underutilized land surrounded by other development, utilities, and infrastructure. The Land Trust plans to partner with a non-profit housing organization to provide sustainable, efficient homes with deed restrictions for workers earning between 80-150% of the Area Median Income (AMI), which, according to the recent housing survey, includes teachers, health care workers, firefighters, police officers, hospitality and recreation employees. 

While this housing will be a small part of the solution for the housing crisis, it has the potential to be a model for future sustainable development.

“We saw an opportunity to embrace growth, but in a way that protects our natural resources,” says Keri York, Lands Program Director at the Land Trust. 

Like many mountain-west communities, Blaine County has seen sprawling large-parcel land development threaten the river floodplain, contribute to fish population declines, and fragment wildlife habitat and migration corridors. The remaining 8 acres of property tie into the Land Trust and City of Hailey’s plans for a full scale restoration at Lions Park on the west side of the river. 

"Reconnecting these fragmented habitats is critical for wildlife, particularly trout that use smaller connecting tributaries and wetlands for spawning," says Ryan Santo, Restoration Specialist at the Land Trust. "Allowing the river to return to its natural floodplain in the west will also protect human structures to the east," adds Ryan.

A Visionary Landowner, Donor, and Organization

HaileySouthThis unique opportunity was possible because of two individuals who wanted to demonstrate that conservation and community housing can both be achieved.  David Anderson, a former board member of Wood River Land Trust with a long history of supporting conservation throughout the West and nationally, was able to negotiate an agreement with the owner, Mark Caplow for this unique project.  Mr. Caplow wanted to contribute to providing a solution to the affordable housing crisis.  Mr. Anderson wanted to catalyze a partnership between the Land Trust and local community housing groups to demonstrate that conservation and strategic placement of community housing are not only possible, but also mutually beneficial. 

“Our community’s access to nature and open space is why we love living in the Wood River Valley,” says David Anderson.  “As our Valley grows, it’s critical to identify the areas that are important for protection, and areas that are appropriate for growth.  We need to make sure that the people who work in this Valley and provide essential services for our community can afford to live in town, in safe and attractive homes, where they can raise their families and contribute to the fabric of our community.”

The acquisition was made possible by a charitable gift from David Anderson and a bargain sale from Mr. Caplow.  The significance of this 15-acre property is three-fold: it provides community access to the Big Wood River along the river front, it overlaps with Lions Park as the parcel extends across the river, and it provides an opportunity for a community connection to the Hailey Greenway by making the current public trail official and protected in perpetuity.  

Not Such A Radical Idea

HaileyMuralThis type of development—creating energy-efficient, affordable housing around existing infrastructure with a variety of transportation options (walking, busing, biking and driving)—is not a new idea. In fact, it has a name—Smart Growth. Born decades ago as a solution to urban sprawl, it became a national movement with its own EPA program, guiding communities across the country as they try to find more sustainable ways to balance population growth and environmental protection. 

The EPA’s 2017 Report, Smart Growth Fixes for Climate Adaptation and Resilience, contributes to a growing body of evidence that smart growth can reduce carbon emissions, and protect air quality by compact, energy efficient development around existing infrastructure that reduces the heavy carbon emissions of long commutes in vehicles. The report also recommends denser, connected development to reduce land disturbance and storm water run-off, restoration of natural river floodplain to prevent unwanted flooding, and restoration of wetlands and riparian forest cover to protect water supplies in the face of drought. 

Elaine Clegg of Idaho Smart Growth who is advising the Land Trust says that the key to success is the “triple bottom line,” including a “strong economy, a healthy natural environment, and happy people.”

The Triple Bottom Line: Environment. Economy. People.

The Land Trust believes that this will be a great example of how a single property can achieve both conservation and affordable housing at the same time, and we need to start a larger community conversation around growth planning that integrates planning and zoning with other values and identified needs, such as affordable housing, land conservation and sustainability.  According to Keri, sustainability needs to include consideration of wildlife habitat, migration corridors, habitat for sensitive species, water resources, river health, preservation of wetlands, groundwater and aquifer replenishment, preservation of agricultural land, open spaces, and public access to all these resources. The Land Trust hopes to keep these aspects of sustainability in the forefront of future community conversations about housing. 

“You can try to limit growth, but it’s going somewhere,” says Clegg. 

The Land Trust sees this as an opportunity to influence how and where that growth goes to benefit the people and the environment. For those who think this is outside the Land Trust’s wheelhouse, Keri reminds us that the land trust movement came about in the early 1980s to protect agricultural land and open space that was being bought up and turned into subdivisions and housing developments. 

Despite the common belief that preservation and development are often on opposing sides, the Land Trust and the people who make our work possible, believe in a brighter future.  This project represents a new path that moves away from siloed-thinking towards a way of thinking that emphasizes the connectivity of people with the surrounding environment, the climate, as well as our interconnectedness with each other. 

“We’ve always been in the business of the triple bottom line,” says Keri.  “Environment. Economy. And people.”

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