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Clear Controversy Homeowners Fight With Developers Over Creation Of 75-Foot Buffer Zone At Hayden Lake

Mon., Sept. 30, 1996

This past summer, Gerry House smelled the stale odor of algae in Hayden Lake for the first time.

He and other residents are disturbed, too, by the increasing murkiness of the water and the appearance of green slime on lakeshore rocks and docks.

“There’s absolutely no comparison between 1990 and right now in terms of water quality,” said Richard Penn, a Hayden Lake resident. “When I snorkel now, I can rarely see more than 10 feet.”

The men believe lakeshore development is the primary culprit. They’re among dozens of people who support a proposal to keep bulldozers and other building equipment 75 feet or farther from the water.

A campaign by real estate brokers and builders to kill that proposal has made inroads with the Kootenai County Commission, which is scheduled to settle the controversy this week.

House said he doesn’t believe in building bans or laissez-faire land-use policies. His father was a builder who helped develop this lakeside community. His mother was an activist who lobbied for laws to preserve Hayden and other lakes.

His family’s development interests and love for the lake stem from when his ancestors settled in the area around the turn of the century.

But while he considers his views middle of the road, some people think his support of a 75-foot buffer zone around lakes and rivers is a bit extreme.

The Coeur d’Alene Association of Realtors is fighting the provision, which was included in a proposed site disturbance ordinance that House and more than 40 other people worked for a year and a half to develop.

“One size doesn’t usually fit all things,” said real estate broker Pat Acuff, explaining his group’s opposition. “There’s nothing magic about 75 feet or 25 feet or 150 feet.”

The 75-foot setback recommendation is included in several lake and watershed management plans, including those drawn up for Spirit Lake, Hayden Lake and the Panhandle National Forests.

But the plans are toothless without ordinances to back them.

The point of the buffer is to keep bulldozers away from the shoreline, and leave natural vegetation to absorb stormwater runoff, prevent erosion and keep nutrients out of the lake. Nutrients, such as phosphorous, lead to poor water quality and speed the death of a lake.

“Eventually, Hayden Lake is destined to be a meadow,” House said from his home near Huckleberry Beach, which was his front yard when he was a child. “But we are accelerating the process significantly.”

Shoreline vegetation also provides food and a place to hide for fish.

Although erosion-control and fishery-protection experts say more room is needed between bulldozers and shorelines, the building industry argues that big buffer zones will render many lots useless.

Instead of buffers, Acuff said, erosion control should be engineered for each individual site.

House is critical of the heavy lobbying efforts to dismantle the buffer zone provision. He and others noted that opponents ignored a grandfather clause that lets some existing lots get around the 75-foot requirement.

When the plan first came before commissioners in August, members of the real estate and building industry showed up in force to protest.

In response, the commissioners formed a subcommittee - primarily Realtors and builders - to revise it.

That group came up with a proposal to exclude lakes and rivers from the setback requirement, and instead require waterfront builders to present plans for erosion control before being issued a building permit.

While the proposal is more flexible for builders, it could be more difficult for the county to enforce.

“We’re not going to be out there with a cup taking samples” of stormwater runoff, said Rand Wichman, a county planner. “You have to show us on paper that you can meet the performance standards. That’s not too difficult. But meeting it in the real world could be very difficult.”

The revised plan came under fire at a subsequent public hearing, and commissioners postponed their decision.

Meanwhile, the Coeur d’Alene Association of Realtors sent out a memo marked “urgent” to all brokers, encouraging a letter campaign to sway the commissioners.

Commissioner Dick Compton indicated Friday that a compromise is likely.

“We’re trying to protect our precious environment and trying not to do something so unreasonable that practical people couldn’t deal with it,” he said.

Everyone seems to agree that protecting lakes is a high priority. The question is how far should antipollution measures go.

House and other Hayden Lake residents have noticed that their lake is suffering, and are anxious to see some changes in land management.

Their observations are backed by a 1993 study by the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality that found on Hayden Lake that “lakeshore development and erosion is extensive and contributes silt and nutrients to some of the near-shore water areas …

“It appears that the residential development has been relatively unchecked in many instances …”

Penn, who lives on Hayden Lake’s Cooper Bay, watched thousands of gallons of silty runoff pour across his property early last year from a new development above him.

While that influenced his support of the buffer zone proposal, he assumes it will never get a stamp of approval from county government.

“Frankly, this whole thing has been blown out of proportion by the real estate community,” he said. “I don’t think the 75-feet is going to stick because of all the hoopla.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: MEETING WEDNESDAY Kootenai County commissioners are scheduled to consider the proposed site disturbance ordinance at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the county Extension Service building, 106 E. Dalton, Coeur d’Alene.

Cut in the Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: MEETING WEDNESDAY Kootenai County commissioners are scheduled to consider the proposed site disturbance ordinance at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the county Extension Service building, 106 E. Dalton, Coeur d’Alene.

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