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Idaho Supreme Court rules in Blaine County affordable housing case

An aerial view of Blaine County and Hailey
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
The Big Wood River seen near Hailey in June 2022

The Idaho Supreme Court issued a ruling in Blaine County's favor last week in a case regarding a dispute over a community housing development.

Three out of five justices determined that plaintiffs Kiki Tidwell and the Madison Jean Tidwell Trust lacked the standing to bring the case against the county, the Blaine County Housing Authority and the ARCH Community Housing Trust.

This decision reversed a 2021 ruling by a district court that favored Hailey resident Tidwell. The district court found Blaine County's issuance of a 2017 permit for an affordable housing duplex north of Hailey to be illegal. The duplex was planned for a parcel transferred to the county by The Valley Club for "public use."

Blaine County, BCHA and ARCH, which held the building permits, appealed the district court's decision to the Idaho Supreme Court.

Central to the dispute is whether "public use" in the deed could include housing, as the county argued, or was solely meant to be preserve the parcel as open space or for recreational use, as Tidwell contended. However, the Idaho Supreme Court Justices did not consider the merits of these claims.

This was because the majority, made up of Chief Justice Richard Bevan and Justices Gregory Moeller and Joel Horton, said Tidwell's arguments, such as the potential devaluation of her property about a mile away and the hindrance of her recreational enjoyment, were not specific or direct enough to constitute harm. Therefore, they concluded that she lacked the standing to bring the lawsuit in the first place.

"Because there is not a fairly traceable causal connection between Plaintiffs’ claimed injury and the proposed duplex, there is no causal link to support standing," Bevan wrote in the majority opinion.

In a dissenting opinion, Justices John Stegner and Linda Copple Trout argued the court should rely more heavily on the Idaho Constitution rather than the federal standard when determining standing.

“In other words, under Idaho’s constitution, a potential governmental violation should be sufficient for an Idahoan to bring suit against that branch of the government," Stegner wrote. According to the dissent, Tidwell had standing to bring the case.

In response to the Idaho Supreme Court opinion, Tidwell said in a statement through her lawyer, "Ask the Idaho Supreme Court and Blaine County why the County is allowed to violate its own laws and build a duplex on a lot too small for septic for one house? If the County decides to put a small modular nuclear reactor on this site, no one has standing to object?"

Michelle Griffith, the executive director of the ARCH Community Housing Trust, said the organization would still like to build the duplex.

"Our hope is to get those units built as quickly as possible," she said, noting that demand for housing in the community remains high.

To do so, ARCH would need to reapply for permits. Griffith said she wasn't sure when the organization could begin this process as it is involved in several ongoing affordable housing projects.

Tim Graves, Blaine County's chief deputy prosecuting attorney, said the county is "pleased" with the Idaho Supreme Court's decision. He declined to comment further, noting that Tidwell has a 21-day window to petition for a rehearing.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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