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Planners prepare for public hearing

Blackwell Hill, a steep forested landscape along the Spokane River visible from Northwest Boulevard, is likely the next high-profile chunk of property to become part of Coeur d’Alene.

The hillside on the south shore of the river, off Millview Lane, is highlighted in Coeur d’Alene’s newly proposed growth plan as a special area that needs specific guidelines for how development should occur.

The Coeur d’Alene Planning Commission is conducting its first formal public hearing Tuesday on the draft plan, which lists growth guidelines for Blackwell Hill and 15 other areas in the city.

After 2 ½ years of work, the commission unveiled this spring the rewrite of the comprehensive plan, which is the foundation of all land-use decisions. Since April the commission has held four informal public meetings and an open house on the plan, which 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.

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.

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

Planning Commission Chairman John Bruning said that the likely annexation and development of Blackwell Hill, which is owned by the Magnuson family, was often mentioned during the public meetings on the proposed comprehensive plan.

“That will be a very sensitive issue,” Bruning said. “Hillside development is (always) an issue.”

The 340 acres have been owned by Magnuson’s Coeur d’Alene Land Company for nearly 40 years.

Attorney Jim Magnuson said the family does eventually want the property annexed into Coeur d’Alene and to develop homes and perhaps apartments and condos.

He said he understands the desire to protect views and vistas, but doesn’t believe that Blackwell Hill should be listed in a special category, somewhat hampering private property rights.

He said responsible developers, especially those who live in the area, will undertake developments that are sensitive to the landscape.

“We don’t ever want to do anything that makes people say, ‘Oh, look what they did,’ ” Magnuson said.

“We put our name on it, we have lived here all our life, and we want to do something where people say, ‘They did a really good job.’ “

In a June 13 letter to the Planning Commission, Magnuson suggested changing the density recommended by the growth plan for Blackwell Hill to allow 2.5 homes per acre instead of one home per acre. Magnuson said the plan also should encourage cluster development to preserve more open space.

The commission hasn’t changed the draft.

Magnuson said more homes are needed to support the cost of bringing sewer, water and roads to the steep, rocky area. The top of the property is flat and not visible from the north side of the river. Magnuson said the city should allow clusters of high-density development in these areas.

Other specific areas listed in the comprehensive plan include hillsides such as Canfield Mountain and Best Hill, where sparse development is envisioned and open space is a main priority for the preservation of vegetation and views.

The growth plan also outlines 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.

During the public meetings and open house, Bruning said residents also indicated a strong desire for preserving trees and expanding the city’s bike and pedestrian paths.

“All facets of growth were discussed,” Bruning said about the meetings.

“People want to see quality growth and not just growth for the sake of growth.”