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Development Along Prairie Is Burning Issue Several Landowners Seek Change To Allow Retail, Industrial Uses

Nearly all the land along Highway 41 from Post Falls to Rathdrum soon would be available for retail or industrial development, under a proposal now before the county.

Landowners are seeking to designate a quarter-mile-wide swath of ground along the lonely two-lane road for future commercial growth.

The land is now primarily designated for agriculture and rural housing developments, under the county’s land-use plan. The change would include all but one mile of the six-mile stretch of state highway connecting the two cities.

The proposal pushes a host of development issues to the fore, not the least of which is a fear that the road now slicing through the Rathdrum Prairie will quickly become a disjointed urban strip.

Grass seed rancher Wayne Meyer is one of the few area landowners opposed to the plan.

“I’m a farmer and I plan to stay a farmer,” Meyer said. “This is the only north-south route that’s not already cluttered up. Let’s keep it that way.”

Other issues range from questions about sewage treatment to the role of asphalt corridors between communities and debate about the existing supply of commercial land.

Real estate agents, land-use experts and residents disagree about whether the idea represents too much too soon or needed planning for a predictable future.

“This would be a significant change in complexion for that whole area,” said Allen Mastos, with Treaty Rock Realty in Post Falls.

Land-use consultant Jim Stravens put together the plan on behalf of several Highway 41 landowners. Traffic volume and population are increasing, he said, along with the demand for retail and industrial land.

“Some property owners wish to convert their agricultural land to commercial,” he said.

Technically, the plan consists of an amendment to the county’s land-use plan. If approved, landowners, one by one, could request commercial zoning when they have specific development projects in mind.

Appointed county planning commissioners will consider the proposal next month, then elected county commissioners will.

While county officials remain mum until taking action, Post Falls officials already have recommended a thumbs down.

There are no plans yet to provide sewer, water or other utilities. More importantly, said city planner Collin Cole, more basic community-wide questions have not yet been answered.

“Should 41 be a commercial corridor or a road to efficiently move traffic between two towns?” he said.

One requires limited access for quick driving. The other includes frequent stops for shoppers - like U.S. Highway 95 north of Appleway.

Rathdrum Mayor Tawnda Bromley, meanwhile, said it’s possible to do both.

Traffic in that area already moves too fast, she said, and it’s going to be a commercial strip eventually anyway. Prepare for it now, she said.

Mastros eagerly supports the plan because it would finally provide western Kootenai County with cheap commercial land, he said. Since the area is mostly vacant, big pieces could sell for half the price of land along Seltice Way.

But development would likely be piecemeal, creating the cluttered urban sprawl farmer Meyer fears.

“That’s the risk you take,” said Shawn McMahon, with Tomlinson Realtors in Coeur d’Alene. “That’s a lot of land - not something you’ll see develop completely in one, two or even five years.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of area.


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