Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sandpoint may require permit for tall buildings

If Sandpoint developers want to construct taller buildings downtown, they may need to get conditional use permits.

The Sandpoint Planning Commission asked city staff Tuesday night to draft a proposed new law that would require developers to get a conditional use permit if they want a building higher than the currently allowed 45 feet, or three stories.

The request came during a public hearing that drew about 70 people, the majority of whom opposed increasing the height of buildings in Sandpoint’s commercial areas. Many opponents fear taller buildings would hurt Sandpoint’s character and its historic downtown. A petition with about 120 signatures was presented to the commission.

City planner Will Harrington said the commission decided to pursue the use of conditional use permits to increase the building heights in some areas instead of allowing buildings up to five stories tall, or 60 feet, in all commercial areas. Obtaining a permit would require a public hearing.

Harrington said staff will try to get the permit proposal ready for the commission’s Feb. 15 public hearing. The Sandpoint City Council will have the final say.

The proposal will include standards that developers will have to meet to get the permit. For instance, the city would consider issuing the permit for a five-story building if going higher would mean more room for landscaped open space, Harrington said.

The city might encourage the design of five-story buildings to complement neighboring structures and request enhancements to parking and sidewalks and other “pedestrian amenities,” he said.

Harrington said the standards also might limit areas where taller buildings would be allowed. They might be excluded, for instance, in older, more historic areas of downtown.

“I’m not saying they are going to approve that,” Harrington said about the proposed law.

“They are just willing to keep an open mind.”

Local resident Gretchen Albrecht-Hellar, who attended the hearing, opposed taller buildings. She said conditional use permits could work if the standards are well-developed and strictly enforced.

But she worries that that wouldn’t happen and that the permits would be freely given.

Albrecht-Hellar added that there is no current definition of Sandpoint’s historic downtown area. That must be defined if it’s referenced in the standards, she said.

“Sandpoint is at that point that if it strengthens the zoning laws, making sure they are fair and enforceable, then we can channel growth, not stop it,” Albrecht-Hellar said.

Another one of her concerns is the ability to fight fires and rescue people in five-story buildings.

Sandpoint began looking at increasing the building heights after the planning department received several inquiries from business owners.

Among them is the Seasons at Sandpoint luxury condominium project. Panhandle State Bank also supports increasing in building heights so it can consolidate its administrative offices into one building.

Harrington said bank representatives are looking at the Harold’s Food site at the corner of Fifth and Church streets.

Other potential five-story projects are the construction of a lighthouse on the city-owned jetty just north of City Beach and another condo development that’s already approved for four stories east of the Power House building.