The prospect of 104 condominiums and 59 houses zigzagging down the hill and along the south shore of Fernan Lake has people in this village gagging.
They worry the proposed Fernan Lake Place development will pollute an already heavily taxed lake. They see the project running off wildlife and putting an end to the use of the area’s favorite fishing, swimming, boating and ice-skating lake.
There are questions about increased traffic and difficulty in fighting house fires, providing city water and sewer service and plowing roads. The project could become a major test of the city of Coeur d’Alene’s resolve to stop allowing developments on steep slopes because of these headaches. The land in question has been annexed by Coeur d’Alene, which abuts Fernan on three sides.
The proposed development would cover 53 acres on a slope that plunges from the edge of the Armstrong Park and Sky Harbor subdivisions to the lake’s edge. It includes 26 four-unit condominiums in an area called “The Villas.” There also would be 59 homes along a lakeshore road in an area called “The Estates.”
Private boat docks also are in the plans, sources say.
The developer, General Management Corp. of Spokane, bristles at inquiry and doesn’t share details.
“Whatever your questions are, we have no comment at all,” said a man who would identify himself only as the company’s staff counsel.
The city of Coeur d’Alene has had preliminary discussions with the developer but has not received a formal application for the project, city officials say. They told the developer more engineering work would be required before they would consider a formal proposal.
The Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council would have to approve the housing project. Boat docks would require approval from the Idaho Department of Lands.
Fernan folk, meanwhile, are looking for any means of keeping a subdivision from scarring the vista and perhaps the lake. However, city officials will have no say in the development.
“It breaks my heart to think that someone would want to destroy something so beautiful,” said Mary Ann Tierney, a Fernan City Councilwoman who watches deer and elk traverse the steep slope from her picture window.
Even real estate developer Pat Acuff, who has lived in Fernan off and on since 1959, objects to the development. “In a word, I think it’s irresponsible,” he said.
Fernan Mayor Doug Potter frames it with the “P” word - phosphorus.
An Idaho Division of Environmental Quality report says the lake already is threatened by algae growth. Phosphorus feeds algae, which competes with fish and other creatures for oxygen.
Adding a housing development and switchback roads to the 45-degree slope means more water would run across the surface of the soil, carrying sediment and phosphorus into the lake, Potter said. It could mean another 18,000 pounds of algae in the lake.
“The worst case is we’re looking at a lake that is pretty dead…and eventually gets pretty swampy,” he said. “I can’t imagine residents of Fernan wanting to live on the edge of the swamp - nor people who use the lake.
Panhandle Health District officials, who helped draft county rules for controlling storm water runoff, confirm there would be some effect. “I don’t know of any way they could prevent some impact to water quality,” said Shireene Hale, senior environmental health specialist.
Residents of Armstrong Park and Sky Harbor Estates, whose homes peek over the top of the ridge above the proposed development, worry about the lake and the traffic. Access to the development would be Potlatch Hill Road, the “one-lane cow path in and out of our area,” said Daniel Perry, president of the Sky Harbor property owners group.
“It’s going to be very dicey come winter when talking about snow and ice and traffic,” he said.
Coeur d’Alene Fire Inspector Rich Kirsch says Fernan Lake Place has its own set of firefighting challenges. It’s a long haul from the nearest fire station - about four miles.
It’s harder to fight house fires on steep slopes because firefighters can get at only one side of the house.
All of that aside, what about the
issue of a property owner’s right to develop their land?
“We all have rights to do certain things,” Fernan Councilwoman Tierney said. “But morally, we shouldn’t do certain things.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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