In a surprise to nearly everyone involved, a rare combination of local environmentalists, builders and land developers reached an agreement for how to manage development in Kootenai County.
The special citizen advisory committee, reluctantly appointed by the Kootenai County Commission in October, submitted its recommendations Tuesday for how to improve proposed changes to the subdivision and zoning rules.
The 12-member group of people spent a month hashing out a way to make the rules for classifying and dividing land in the county more agreeable to all factions involved. The suggestions include providing rules for building on steep hillsides, protections for waterfronts and a rule that would allow up to four property owners to share a common driveway.
“Lots of people did not think we were going to be successful,” said Carol Sebastian of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance. “But this process allows that dialogue to take place and you see you have common ground and that you aren’t that far away from each other.”
The County Commission will have a public hearing Dec. 15 on the advisory committee’s recommendations and the current drafts of the subdivision and zoning rules. The commission will make the final decision and doesn’t have to include the recommendations of the advisory committee.
Commission Chairman Dick Panabaker said he was impressed with how well the advisory committee worked.
“I don’t know what the final result will be but it looks like they’ve done a good job,” he said.
Advisory members said it seems likely the commission will incorporate much of the committee’s recommendations because they were reached by consensus.
The members hope the County Commission sees the value in having the public involved in the drafting process and uses similar advisory groups to help with other policy updates, such as the upcoming revision of the comprehensive plan that is the foundation of all land use decisions.
“Everyone realized nobody was trying to take anything away from anybody,” said Charlie Rens, a North Idaho Building Contractors Association board member. “We were able to bring a diverse group of people together, sit, discuss and understand the needs of everyone.”
Sebastian said everyone had the same goal in mind and that was preserving the very thing that draws people to Kootenai County – the landscape and natural environment. And that, she said, will preserve the economy that is based on tourism and building.
The commission appointed the advisory committee out of frustration after the groups of environmentalists, builders, land developers and real estate agents accused the county of not involving the public in the drafting of the two laws. The county has been working for more than a year to revise the laws and has had numerous public hearings.
The advisory committee recommendations include requirements for building on hillsides steeper than 35 percent. The proposed rule would require a builder to use a planned unit development, which gives more flexibility with the size and placement of the lots, so there are fewer disturbances to the hillside.
Earlier drafts called for restricting all building on hillsides steeper than 35 percent, which the NICBA argued would put a building moratorium on the county and cause housing prices to skyrocket.
Rens said the advisory committee proposal protects hillsides but doesn’t prevent building, which is a good compromise.
The recommendations also would prevent people from building within 75 feet of a lake or stream. If a developer used a PUD, then they could build within 45 feet of the water if they provided extra storm water and erosion protections.
The advisory committee also wants to allow people to build one home per two acres in agricultural/suburban areas that are a transition between rural and more populated areas.
“The group worked really hard to resolve some of their differences and keep the public interest in mind and still come up with something that works,” said County Planner Shireene Hale.
Local attorney Jerry Mason facilitated the meetings at no cost to the county or the represented groups.
After the first meeting, NIBCA sent the commission a letter stating that Mason overstepped his facilitator role by injecting his own opinions.
Rens said that the situation improved after the initial meetings and that Mason did a good job helping the advisory committee.
“I don’t think he overstepped his bounds and I don’t think anyone overpowered anybody,” Rens said.
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