Harrison to study annexation policy

The Harrison City Council will consider a new policy tonight on how to process annexation requests while also hearing a pitch from a proposed mega golf retreat that wants to be part of the city.

The population of Harrison, at the south end of Lake Coeur d’Alene, could become 10 times larger if it annexes Powderhorn Ranch’s 1,642 acres into the city of about 270.

The development company, partially owned by Seattle-based Heartland, wants to transform the former farm fields and timberland into three golf courses and perhaps 1,350 luxury second homes. The property sits high on basalt cliffs, and one stretch of hillside is visible across the Coeur d’Alene River from downtown Harrison.

Powderhorn Ranch filed a pre-annexation application with the city in September. The council put all discussions on hold until it could draft an official policy for annexation. Previously, the city relied on state law for the occasional annexation.

Harrison hired independent planner Scott Brown to draft the two-page proposal that includes four steps: an initial review by council, a pre-annexation application, annexation application and impact studies and finally a public hearing and council decision.

Brown said that Harrison wanted to make sure it had a clear procedure before taking on such a large annexation request.

“This might be the largest annexation request in the history of Kootenai County,” Brown said.

Mayor Josephine Prophet said the council must first approve the proposed annexation policy before it can consider Powderhorn Ranch’s request or any other annexation proposal.

Both discussions are expected to attract a crowd and Prophet said the 7 p.m. meeting might move from City Hall to a larger venue.

Susan Melka, who lives just outside Harrison’s city limits, is opposed to the Powderhorn Ranch annexation because it would create a town 30 percent larger than Kellogg, which has a population of 2,400 people. Yet Harrison doesn’t have the police, hospital, grocery stores, gas station or other services to support such growth, she said.

“I consider it to be a totally insane proposition,” Melka said. “Development should follow infrastructure, not vice versa.”

She added that Powderhorn Ranch is courting Harrison only to avoid the county, which might try to limit the size and density of the proposed golf retreat.

Rand Wichman, the former Kootenai County planning director who recently became vice president of Powderhorn Ranch, said the company is focusing on Harrison because plans to build the retreat in the county are on hold pending a judge’s decision.

Opponents sued the county alleging the Kootenai County Commission erred in October when it amended the county’s growth plan to allow for the golf retreat and homes.

Wichman said it makes sense to include Powderhorn Ranch in the city because it would provide thousands of dollars – and eventually millions of dollars – in additional tax revenue for the city. Wichman said many Harrison businesses are currently for sale and that Powderhorn Ranch would bring viability in addition to helping the town improve its water and sewer systems.

He said some people fear such a large annexation, nearly three square miles, would change the character of Harrison.

Wichman had no comment on the annexation proposal because he hasn’t yet seen the draft.

Melka hasn’t seen the proposal either.

Regardless of the city policy, Melka and Neighbors for Responsible Growth believe it’s illegal to include Powderhorn Ranch in Harrison because the property isn’t contiguous to the current city limits.

In a Nov. 4 letter to Prophet, Neighbors for Responsible Growth attorney Scott Reed wrote that the property is at least one mile away. He added that the fact that the property is within Harrison’s area of city impact, or where the town plans to grow in the future, is “totally irrelevant” to annexation.

Wichman disagrees, arguing that Harrison could annex a portion of the Coeur d’Alene River bed, near the mouth of Lake Coeur d’Alene. He said it’s similar to when Coeur d’Alene considered in 2006 including Blackwell Island and some of the water that stretches into the Spokane River and Blackwell Island channel.

Coeur d’Alene ultimately rejected the request by businessman Duane Hagadone, not because of the water annexation but because too many questions remained about an emergency boat slip and a bike path.

“The same thing exists in Harrison,” Wichman said. “The city would have to annex some submerged land to be continuous. I don’t think it’s a big problem.”

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