The controversial Green Meadows housing development off Rimrock Road is a go after nearly three years of debate.
The Kootenai County Commission unanimously approved the 80-home, 60-acre subdivision Wednesday. Opponents argue the land is too wet to build on and the development will ultimately hurt Hayden Lake’s water quality.
Local real estate agent John Beutler can’t start building homes on the property at the corner of Lancaster and Rimrock until the Hayden Lake Recreational Water and Sewer District approves Green Meadows’ storm water and erosion control plans. Beutler said that work will happen this winter and he hopes to start construction next summer.
Initially the water and sewer district refused to provide sewer hookups for the homes because it feared the development could harm Hayden and Avondale lakes’ water quality. The county commission shared the concerns over water quality and rejected the proposal in May 2003.
At the time, Beutler said the denial marked a new era for Kootenai County, making it more difficult and expensive for developers to get subdivisions approved.
Beutler said he still feels that way but agreed to work with the water and sewer board to find a solution. District officials decided to get involved in the design stages of subdivisions because they said they were tired of seeing projects damage Hayden Lake.
Even though Beutler thinks the district is overstepping its authority, he agreed not to build until the district is satisfied Green Meadows won’t allow sediment, erosion and runoff to reach the lakes.
“To date it’s been an extraordinary effort and investment,” Beutler said, charactering the last three years of hearings as a “work in process.”
Beutler said he thinks it won’t be a problem to design a storm water system that meets the district’s concerns.
“I like that there are some safeguards put in place by the Hayden area sewer group,” Commissioner Gus Johnson said.
Yet some neighbors and the conservation group Save Hayden Lake aren’t so confident.
“Girlie men,” Save Hayden Lake President Mike Piper said, referring to the commission putting the onus of protecting the lake on the water and sewer district, not the county. “It’s just a tragedy.
Piper said he has confidence in the water and sewer district and its mission to protect Hayden Lake’s water quality yet he said no storm water system is adequate enough.
Piper said the Green Meadows property acts as a natural filter, meaning the wetlands filter runoff before it gets to the lake. Building homes on the land destroys that natural system, he said.
“There’s no storm water system known to mankind that can duplicate something God-given,” Piper said, adding its possible Save Hayden Lake may appeal the commission’s decision.
The district’s chairman, Gerry House, wasn’t available for comment Wednesday but has said he thinks Beutler is sincere in wanting to protect the lake and prevent erosion problems.
In a March interview, House said too many housing developments were causing water quality problems. He cited Snowberry Court, a 12-lot housing development off Rimrock Road, as an example of project dumping sediment into the lake.
Piper agrees that Snowberry Court is a problem and also cited Beutler’s Rimrock Forest Estates development off Lancaster Road.
Beutler said Rimrock Forest Estate’s storm water system works well and is a good example of how it’s possible to build homes in the area north of Hayden Lake, which is where many people want to live.
The commission said little about potential traffic problems that the housing development could cause on Lancaster and U.S. Highway 95 other than it hopes the Idaho Transportation Department moves forward with planned improvements on these roads.
Traffic congestion concerns were the reason a county hearing examiner in April recommended denial of the project.
Johnson said that’s always a tough situation because infrastructure such as roads aren’t usually built or improved until the houses are built.