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Kootenai County OKs new comprehensive plan

Next step is adoption of zoning ordinances for Kootenai County

Kootenai County commissioners on Thursday approved a comprehensive plan that’s been four years in the making.

Updating the 16-year-old plan began in the fall of 2006 and involved hundreds of meetings, with input from developers, environmentalists, mayors, state agencies and ordinary citizens. Commissioner Rick Currie said the plan would not please everyone but is the county’s best attempt at compromise.

“The plan is not perfect. Just by its design, it can’t be perfect,” he said. “It has to represent all of Kootenai County. It is not 100 percent what the business community wanted. It is not 100 percent what the environmental community wanted. It’s not a plan I’m 100 percent in favor of. The best we can hope for is middle of the road. I think we have accomplished that.”

The plan will guide growth but has no regulatory impact. That will be accomplished by the next step: creating zoning ordinances to match the plan. That step will be undertaken with two new commissioners – Dan Green and Jai Nelson – who will be sworn in Jan. 10. Commissioner Todd Tondee, the only member of the current board remaining, said the real work begins now that the comprehensive plan is complete.

Currie and Commissioner Rich Piazza lost their bids for re-election during the Republican primary in May. Currie ran as a write-in during the general election, but was again defeated by Nelson.

Tondee said perhaps the most controversial aspect of the plan was the decision to remove density requirements, something he opposed. Density requirements would have provided guidelines as to how many homes could be built per acre in different zoning classifications. Instead, the plan delineates classifications – including “scenic” as the least dense and “suburban” as the densest – without spelling out specifically how many homes would be allowed.

During the primary election, Currie was criticized by one of his Republican opponents for removing the density requirements from the plan. In response, Currie said only three of Idaho’s 44 counties included density requirements in their plans and that those rules belong in the zoning ordinances.

Tondee, however, said having density requirements in the plan would have made the effort to develop zoning ordinances more straightforward and less burdensome. He expects that process to take longer now.

“It just moves the fight, or prolongs it,” Tondee said.

The county has budgeted $350,000 to hire a consulting firm to direct creation of the zoning ordinances. Nine firms responded to a request for qualifications and the county has narrowed that down to four or five, Tondee said.

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