The city drew a line in the sand Friday over development at Sanders Beach.
Planning and building officials told an East Lakeshore Drive homeowner the city’s shoreline development rules prevent him from building condominiums at the water’s edge. They torpedoed landowner Joe Chapman’s plans to build the two-story units.
Spurred by the controversy, a City Council member, meanwhile, met privately with wealthy owners of the beach. Her mission: To determine if they would consider selling the private beach, which has long been open to the public.
“Those people have been very generous for a lot of years,” said Councilwoman Nancy Sue Wallace. “But I’d like to get this issue resolved once and for all.”
Friday’s events mark the beginning of what could become a lengthy battle to decide whether the area is developed or forever reserved for swimming and sunbathing.
Access to the area has been fought over for decades, most recently in 1992 when an area landowner had a sunbather arrested for trespassing. A judge threw the case out of court.
Chapman instigated the debate again this week, with plans to build his condominiums right into the water near 12th Street. That would destroy much of the beach and block all land access to what remained.
Chapman says a recent court ruling adds several hundred square feet to the size of his property, and should allow him to build his condos.
In that case, Judge Craig Kosonen ruled that private ownership of the lake extends to the elevation 2,121 feet - not 2,128 as the state contends.
But the city has a shoreline ordinance requiring all construction take place at least 40 feet from the water. Ownership issues aside, City Attorney Jeff Jones maintains, that is reason enough to stop Chapman’s plans.
Chapman was not surprised by the city’s decision Friday, and plans an appeal to the City Council.
From there, the owner of Chapman Designs and Henry’s restaurant said, it’s on to court if he doesn’t get his way. “I’ve got my lawyers looking at the shoreline ordinance right now.”
As the lawyers prepare to battle Chapman’s case, Wallace is prepping for another battle - measuring support and cost if the city moves to control the beach.
That task alone could be next to impossible.
Even if the dozen-or-so landowners want to sell, they’d have to settle with the city on a price. The Kootenai County Assessor never has determined the value of land between Lakeshore Drive and the water.
Chapman said he believes the value of the beach would be about $3 million.
But private real estate appraiser Jack Bischof said two appraisers could study that area and “could conceivably be 180 degrees different” on value.
“An appraisal would be very, very difficult,” he said. “Appraisals are based on sales of similar property and that’s a unique area.”
Appraisers also would have to determine how much value the homes would lose by going from “water front property to water view property,” he said.
Depending on the price, the City Council could seek a bond issue to buy the land. Then, Wallace said, the real test would begin.
“Do voters want the beach badly enough to pay for it?” Wallace said.