Natural resources, especially water, and space are the most cherished values Kootenai County residents want reflected in a growth plan, consultants told the county commission Thursday night.
Other key factors are preserving a rural lifestyle and small-town feel in addition to maintaining a strong economy. The gist is to balance the economy with the environment.
“Most people here are still strongly attached to the land,” planning consultant Tweed Kezziah told the commission while highlighting a report based on comments from 1,450 people who participated this fall in surveys and meetings about how the county should – or shouldn’t – grow.
The county Planning Commission will use the report as a framework for rewriting the comprehensive plan, which is the foundation of all land-use decisions. The planners start work at 8:30 a.m. today, when they meet for an organizational meeting.
The consultants urged county planners and residents to embrace innovative ideas for planning. They also suggested creating growth plans for different areas in the county such as Mica Flats and Lake Coeur d’Alene’s east side.
Another major recommendation is extinguishing the rampant distrust plaguing Kootenai County, more serious than the consultants have experienced in any other community where they’ve worked.
The county hired KezziahWatkins, a Colorado-based consulting firm, to get as many residents as possible involved in the rewrite of the growth plan. So far the consultants are amazed by the participation.
Like many areas in the West, Kootenai County is experiencing massive growth – a 55 percent population increase between 1990 and 2004.
That’s putting pressure on existing neighborhoods and rural areas and has sparked residents to organize and protest plans for many new developments.
Perhaps that has led to the distrust, which Kezziah said is likely bred by ill-conceived perceptions and false motives, such as the belief that land use is controlled by developers. Or the notion that most residents oppose growth.
She said the report, based on comments from residents from across the county, shows that there isn’t a “no-growth” sentiment. Instead, 95 percent of the people want planned and managed growth. Yet, she added, there’s no evidence developers are in charge.
“You clearly don’t want this to be a resort community,” Kezziah said, clarifying that residents want affordable housing so workers can live in the area unlike Sun Valley, Vail and other resort towns.
Resident Janet Torline, who lives on the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene, said the mistrust comes when elected officials don’t enforce or implement the land-use rules already in existence.
That point also ranked high in the report’s summary. The consultants said that residents want a comprehensive plan with teeth, a document the county commissioners should stick to.
Commissioner Katie Brodie said the issue of distrust “hits me in the heart” and acknowledged that there were people in the room known for pointing fingers.
In September, Neighbors for Responsible Growth alleged that Brodie wrongfully asked questions of golf-course developers during a site tour.
This spring, the planning commission will present a draft for public inspection. Yet some of the 70 people at Thursday’s meeting asked for public involvement all throughout the drafting process.
Planning Commissioner Dwight Hamilton, who leaves the board in January, said that the county doesn’t have the money for the level of enforcement people want. He said an example is open space. Residents want the county to buy large tracts of land, but the county doesn’t have the cash. And he said many property owners wouldn’t want higher taxes to pay for open space.
“We need to decide: What do we want to pay for,” Hamilton said.
Besides the summary report, the consultants also compiled a separate, 1,300-page report with verbatim comments from the surveys, workshops and in-home meetings known as “meetings in a box” that many residents hosted this fall.
“We want it to be as transparent as possible,” consultant Susan Watkins said.
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