John Hendrickson doesn’t relish the thought of turning state Highway 41, the road between Post Falls and Rathdrum, into another version of Spokane’s North Division Street.
But without advance preparation, he fears, there’s little standing in the way.
That’s why the Post Falls administrator asked county planners to “proceed with caution” in allowing commercial construction along the two-lane road.
He recently sent a warning letter to county planners after they had talked about allowing the entire corridor to evolve from a lonely rural route to a strip of offices, retail businesses and light industrial shops.
County planners agreed to work with the city to build a vision for the area. But the shift from working grass fields to a commercial strip already has begun.
On several dozen acres along the highway between Mullan and Prairie avenues, a half-dozen landowners are seeking to have the county change zoning on their land to allow retail, industrial or service-oriented development. One wants a building supply store and one wants to erect an excavating business; most just want the zoning changes for future speculation.
Because both the county and Post Falls seem to agree in spirit that commercial development is inevitable, county planners are giving such plans preliminary approval.
“There’s an argument out there that says case-by-case zoning changes are not good,” said county planning commissioner Jan Scharnweber. “But when what you have is out of line for what you know is planned for the future, what other choice can you make?”
In other words, Scharnweber said, because the county’s 1977 zoning code is out-of-date, zoning changes should be made when requested. A more comprehensive approach to the corridor will be developed in the meantime.
Hendrickson understands but said: “We want to make sure the county won’t do that in a vacuum.”
Without careful planning, he said, the result could be a domino effect.
“Any time you have development, there will continue to be development behind it,” he said.
It’s not that Post Falls expects that strip to remain agricultural. City officials simply believe development along Highway 41 should not occur until land is annexed into the city.
Associate planner Colin Coles said it’s harder to fill in services after development has occurred than to build the infrastructure first. “It seems like we’re always playing catch-up.”
The city has different standards - on everything from lot sizes, signs, parking requirements and building design. Developing commercial land in the county that later falls under city control creates a host of problems.
Another concern is the checkerboard phenomenon. Businesses in the county can only be built on five- or 10-acre tracts. The result is haphazard growth that tends not to cluster businesses around intersections or other areas.
For example, owners of a small gas station along Highway 41 near Poleline Road - now part of the county - had to build on 10 acres just to have land enough to meet septic system requirements. In the city, such a development would fit on a quarter-acre and would attach to the city’s sewer system.
The Panhandle Health District would also like to see property annexed before businesses are built. With city sewer, a business is less likely to pour its industrial wastewater into a dry well, headed straight for the Rathdrum aquifer - the county’s source of drinking water.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of Highway 41 between Post Falls and Rathdrum