A battle appears to be brewing over Kootenai County’s comprehensive plan, the document that will guide growth for the foreseeable future.
Some in the development and planning industry criticize the plan as being too regulatory and say it will limit residential density to only half of what’s currently allowed. Environmental interests say the public has expressed its desire to retain the county’s rural character.
The county has completed its third draft of the plan after a two-year process and will open the floor to the public during hearings Wednesday, Thursday and June 1.
County Commissioner Todd Tondee said county officials have listened to hours of public input and need to “find the commonalities.” He said he anticipates further changes in the document but not a wholesale rewrite. He also points out that the plan completes only half the job of guiding growth. Next, the county will take up renewal of its zoning ordinances, which Tondee called “more critical than anything else.”
“Everybody is interested in the rules and laws they have to follow,” Tondee said. “It’s the zoning ordinances that are going to dictate what’s going to happen. The comp plan sets the direction and guidelines for those ordinances.”
Last Wednesday, Citizens for Balance, a nonprofit group of people concerned about land-use issues, held a forum in an attempt to explain its take on the plan and propose alternatives.
“In our mind, it’s much too specific,” said Gary Young, the group’s vice president, who has a private planning business. “It’s not supposed to be used as a regulatory document, but as a guiding document in terms of creating regulations.”
Young said using conventional zoning to maintain the county’s rural character, instead of tailoring land use to each specific area, will fragment the county into “cookie-cutter developments.” The recommendation of Citizens for Balance, he said, is to remove the density standards and start by identifying where growth should be allowed, what lands should be preserved and where infill makes sense.
However, Terry Jones, executive director of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, said the plan allows for a range of zoning possibilities, and its goal should be to draw those “coarse designations on the map so rural areas stay rural.” Jones said the development community wants to “make the comprehensive plan as loose and flexible as possible so they can build whatever they want, wherever they want. That’s why our position is that it should be clear, where rural places should remain rural.
“That’s the battle that will be fought,” he said.
Tondee said the zoning ordinances will be easier to develop if the comprehensive plan’s direction is clear. “That’s why people are saying it’s more regulatory,” he said, adding: “It’s been two years in the making. We’re hoping this is the end.”