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Growth plan feedback sought

Coeur d’Alene has little space to grow except for its steeper hillsides and older neighborhoods such as those near downtown.

That’s why Planning Commission Chairman John Bruning thinks these areas likely will garner the most attention when residents get their first chance to comment on an overhaul of the city’s growth plan. The commission will host five open houses on the subject starting April 23.

After 2 1/2 years of work, the Planning Commission is ready to unveil a draft of the proposed comprehensive plan, which is the foundation of all land-use decisions. The plan was last updated in 1995, long before towers were common, waterfront mills were transformed into a mix of condos and shops, and developers took interest in older residential neighborhoods.

“I want to point out to everybody this is just a draft. This isn’t a final copy,” Bruning said. “We will make changes as needed.”

That is the reason for the four public workshops plus a May 3 walk-in open house at City Hall. The commission also will have a public hearing, likely in June, before the plan goes to the City Council for a final decision, which also will include a public hearing.

The plan’s revamp includes a new format that is simpler, easier to read and includes photos and maps. It’s designed so a stranger to Coeur d’Alene could read the 88-page plan and figure out “where we’ve been, where we are and our vision for the future,” Bruning said.

The plan is based on four goals: preserving the natural environment and beauty, encouraging economic growth, protecting the quality of existing neighborhoods, and providing an efficient and well-managed city government.

From there the growth plan outlines 10 special areas that Bruning said the commissioners agreed are unique and need individual attention. Those range from the hillsides and shorelines to the education corridor and the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.

Then the plan breaks down the city into 16 specific land-use areas and provides guidelines for how growth in each area should occur. For example, the draft states that in the city’s northeast hillside area, which includes Canfield Mountain and Best Hill, sparse development is envisioned and open space is a main priority for the preservation of natural vegetation, views and vistas.

City Planner Dave Yadon said he wants everyone to critique the draft, including neighborhood groups, builders and business owners. “We need validation,” Yadon said. “Does what we are saying make sense?”

Kootenai County also is revamping its comprehensive plan but is taking a different approach and encouraging public participation from the beginning. When county planners initially announced the rewrite process, some residents complained that it didn’t include enough public involvement.

Residents haven’t yet expressed the same concerns to the city, probably because the changes in the county – the more rural areas in particular – have been more drastic than within city limits, Yadon said. He acknowledges that Coeur d’Alene has changed but that it had an urban feel even 10 years ago.

“The shock of it isn’t there,” he said. “It’s a gut-level reaction to a change in their environment.”

Once Coeur d’Alene’s growth plan is approved, the next step is to ensure that the city’s land-use rules, such as subdivision and zoning ordinances, match the intent of the new document.

Bruning said the commission is asking the city to fund an overhaul of the zoning laws that dictate how land is classified. He thinks the city should hire a consultant because the task is so large and complex.

The council will decide which land-use revision to tackle next during its budget-setting process this summer.