CANYON CITY - The Grant County Court signed off last week on a planning fee for a one-of-a-kind review: processing the anticipated master plan for the Silvies Valley Ranch in southern Grant County.

Hilary McNary, the county planning director, said without an amendment to the county's fee ordinance, her department would have no way to defray the cost of the master plan adoption process.

The fee, proposed at $1,596, is based on an estimate of the work expected for the process. McNary said the process is expected to be the same as that for a zone change and text amendment, so she based the fee on that.

McNary said she expects the ranch to submit a master plan soon, so she proposed the fee adoption as an emergency measure. That makes it effective on signing by the Court.

The action drew concerns from county residents Jim Sproul and Mike Smith, who contended that the action amounted to preferential treatment for one property owner. They said by going with a master plan, the ranch avoids paying planning fees on individual structures as they go up.

Dr. Scott Campbell and his partners are developing an upscale guest ranch in the Silvies Valley, south of Seneca. Plans call for more than 500 guest cabins, phased in over several years. The cabins, but not the land, will be sold to multiple owners similar to a time-share arrangement.

The Legislature last sesssion approved a House bill to allow the Silvies Valley development.

"This guy got special treatment," said Smith, a Prairie City rancher. He said it would be more honest "to just waive the fees and acknowledge that you got steamrolled at the state."

Sproul said if Silvies Valley doesn't have to pay fees on each building, other people should get a pass, too.

Planners said the Silvies Valley development will still need to pay building inspection fees and other costs.

Judge Mark Webb said the planning fees are supposed to reflect actual services rendered by the county. He said adopting the master plan fee doesn't preclude the Court from revisiting the issue if the planners find that the tracking or related work on the ranch project is costing more money than expected.

The County Court supported the state legislation, contending that the jobs it promises will benefit the community. Webb said his support also reflected a respect for private property rights.

"What we have here is someone exercising these rights differently than we are used to," he said.

McNary said the planning department will watch the costs carefully.

"If it turns out to be a bunch of work every time they come in, I'm not going to do it for free," she said. But she urged the adoption of the fee for now.

"If I don't have this, I can't charge them anything," she said.

The Court signed the fee but also agreed to check on whether a second hearing was needed for the emergency action to go into effect.


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