July 4, 2006 in Idaho

Building heights on agenda

By The Spokesman-Review

Meeting moved

The 6 p.m. public hearing is at Coeur d’Alene City Hall, 710 E. Mullan Ave. The City Council normally meets the second Tuesday of each month, but because of the July Fourth holiday, the meeting was moved to Wednesday.

For more information, call (208) 769-2300.

The Coeur d’Alene City Council will have a public hearing Wednesday on a proposal to limit building heights and girth in downtown, yet most of the controversy has seemingly simmered down after changes were made in May.

The Planning Commission made the modifications after numerous workshops at which downtown property owners and other city residents picked apart the proposal aimed at transforming downtown into an urban core that mixes businesses with high-density living, such as condominiums and apartments. The city wants to encourage high-rise buildings while protecting the city’s views of the nearby mountains, Tubbs Hill and Lake Coeur d’Alene.

The draft keeps the current proposed height limit at 75 feet and in some cases up to 160 feet, or about 14 stories, if developers agree to incorporate public features, City Planning Director Dave Yadon said.

The Planning Commission removed a provision, which some residents called “extortion,” which would have allowed developers to give cash donations for city parkland, the library or museum in exchange for building up to a maximum of about 220 feet. That’s close to the height of businessman Duane Hagadone’s landmark downtown resort. Now to get to that height, developers would have to incorporate even more public features in their buildings, such as street-level retail shops, parking, public art or affordable housing for people who work downtown.

Another main change would eliminate the distinction between residential and commercial construction, freeing up developers to decide how to fill the buildings, Yadon said.

Some downtown property owners, including Hagadone, feared the proposal would limit the amount of commercial construction allowed in the city core and could ultimately hurt the economy by scaring away developers.

Hagadone’s attorney, Janet Robnett, didn’t return a phone call, but Yadon said most concerns by downtown property owners were addressed. Yet he said there are people who don’t think any regulation is needed and those who think the proposals aren’t stringent enough.

“I think there are feelings all over the board,” he said.

At the heart of the plan is a formula based on the size of the lot and the number of square feet it can support. The new draft increases the base number of square feet, which means developers would have more floor area to work with before the city would require them to include public features in exchange for more floors.

Current downtown buildings average about four stories. To keep that feeling and to make the towers seem less dominating, the proposal recommends that any building taller than 45 feet would have to have its upper floors set back at least 10 feet. The setbacks would allow people on street level to still see the lake and mountains in the open space between the towers. The initial proposal included 20-foot setbacks.

In previous workshops and hearings, consultant Mark Hinshaw, who was hired by the city, reiterated that the plan isn’t so much about building heights as how many square feet a building can have.

Current city rules have no height restriction but limit how many residential units are allowed downtown. Hinshaw said the proposed rules would increase the density and give developers more flexibility. He said the current rules don’t encourage urban living, which is key to keeping downtown vital.

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