Commercial development along state Highway 41, between Post Falls and Rathdrum, is as inevitable as the end of field burning on the Rathdrum Prairie.
It’s coming, although no one knows when.
Meanwhile, Kootenai County officials have the rare chance in their rapidly growing area to plan for a commercial strip from the ground floor up.
Their action now will determine what becomes of a lonely two-lane road dividing bluegrass fields. Will it evolve into a traffic hazard with stoplights every half mile, like U.S. Highway 95 north of Coeur d’Alene? A busy stop-and-start commercial corridor, like East Sprague in Spokane? Or will it be a well-planned highway that whisks commuters to work, shopping and home, while providing convenient access to a thriving new commercial district?
County officials should proceed cautiously, resisting pressure from business interests to allow haphazard development.
That pressure already is considerable.
Developers are eager to gobble up cheap land and break ground. Last year, the county planning commission rejected a proposal from a business group to rezone as commercial and industrial a quartermile swath on both sides of Highway 41.
It was too much, too soon.
Said Planning Commissioner Katie Brodie at the time: “That was just too large an undertaking. Sixty-four hundred acres … That’s monumental.”
Now, with business interests ready to unveil a retooled proposal, it’s time for planners to have their say.
Before any development takes place, county officials should insist that proper setbacks exist - for widening of Highway 41 and possible construction of frontage roads. Adequate setbacks at the start will mean that no buildings will be torn down or road surface ripped up later to provide sewer, water and other utilities.
Planners also should establish guidelines for entrance and egress, landscaping and parking at future Highway 41 businesses that are compatible with those of the neighboring towns. Some day, Post Falls and Rathdrum will annex chunks of the six-mile stretch.
In a perfect world, Highway 41 would remain an uncluttered farm-to-market road, splitting the appealing grass fields of the Rathdrum Prairie. In a perfect world, grass farmers would have found an alternative to their controversial practice of field burning and wouldn’t be under intense pressure to quit.
This isn’t a perfect world.
So, we hope Kootenai County officials have the foresight and courage to make good - not necessarily perfect - decisions about Highway 41’s future.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board
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