The city of Coeur d’Alene has acquired almost 5 acres of land adjacent to an ambitious, publicly owned. mixed-use development on a prime spot near downtown and on the banks of the Spokane River.
Now it has to decide what to do with it.
That decision was the subject of a lengthy presentation and discussion at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, where council members, Mayor Steve Widmyer, an engineer enlisted to help design the development and the head of the city’s urban renewal agency, ignite CDA, discussed their options.
The possibilities on the table ranged from creating a gated community on the triangular parcel to building office, hotel or apartment towers, to constructing a mix of townhomes and houses.
Council members ultimately decided to take a couple of weeks to mull over the kind of decision usually left to private developers.
As they do so, they will have to consider a number of complex factors at play on a piece of land with a long and tangled history.
For over a century, the Stimson lumber mill occupied 50 acres along the banks of the Spokane River, about 3 miles downstream from Lake Coeur d’Alene. After it closed in 2005, the property changed hands a number of times as its master plan said, “numerous private developers evaluated the (site) for development, but passed because of the site’s unique and complicated characteristics … .”
Seeing an opportunity to create public access to the waterfront and boost economic development in the area, the city bought what is known as the Atlas Site for $7.85 million in 2018. Soon after, the city enlisted ignite CDA to decide what to do with the land.
But the city didn’t give the urban renewal agency free rein.
It tasked ignite CDA with pursuing a strategy that would set aside much of the land for market-driven housing and commercial development that would not only pay the city back for purchasing the land, but also fund the cleanup of pollution, the development of public infrastructure and the preservation of the riverfront at the site.
ignite CDA, in turn, enlisted Welch Comer Engineers to create a master plan for the project. And in the two years since, they have worked with the city to move forward with making that plan a reality.
The first tangible progress occurred earlier this month, when the city opened Atlas Mill Park, which includes a kayak and paddleboard launch, a dog area and a gazebo and stretches in a narrow band some 4,000 feet along the river bank.
Meanwhile, ignite CDA and its board have been working with developers who have submitted proposals for how they envision building out various subparcels of the site.
But unlike a purely private development, ignite CDA isn’t just selling the parcel to the highest bidder, said Welch Comer’s Phil Boyd at Tuesday’s council meeting.
While cost is “heavily weighted” in decisions about who to sell to, he said, bids are also reviewed for how well they fit in with the master plan’s development standards before the ignite CDA board ultimately approves or disapproves of them.
Development is also guided by an overarching vision, Welch said, for the inclusion of “a mixture of home types.” In part, he said, that’s part of an effort to avoid the development of a single product type, such as single-family homes, for sale at a “homogeneous, single price point.”
And so far, ignite CDA has followed through on that commitment to select a diverse array of architectural styles for the project.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Welch showed off the renderings for the kinds of housing slated to be built on about a half-dozen areas of the project. There were designs for single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes, three-story apartment buildings and three-story mixed-use buildings with apartments set above commercial spaces.
While the renderings indicated the Atlas Waterfront Project has followed through on its plan to bring together diverse architectural styles on the site, Welch suggested those plans may have worked too well.
“Some of these don’t make a lot of sense next to each other,” he said of the projects.
To bring about some greater consistency, he said, the ignite CDA board plans to implement architectural standards that developers will have to meet. It also plans sell the property to developers in smaller units of four lots in an effort to boost revenue for the project and allow more developers to participate in the build out.
As for the nearly 5-acre parcel up for the City Council’s consideration at Tuesday’s meeting, it’s not clear how it will fit in with the adjacent Atlas Waterfront Project.
The city has the option to sell the triangular parcel through the land-surplus bid process, though the city would likely relinquish control over how the buyer uses it. Or it could transfer the land to ignite CDA, which would then incorporate it into the larger Atlas project.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Welch presented the council with six different options for how the land could be used. Council members offered a wide range of responses, with some focused on the potential to expand the footprint of the Atlas project with more diverse housing styles, and others intent on maximizing revenue in order to chip away at the debt the city has accumulated to purchase and develop the land so far.
Councilwoman Amy Evans was in the former camp, arguing a mix of townhomes and single-family houses would help “address our housing needs in the community.
Councilman Woody McEvers said he was all for getting “the most money we can out of” the triangular parcel. To do so, he said, the city should make it a gated community where prices would be high and city crews wouldn’t even have to spend time or money plowing snow.
“Let them spend their money however they want to,” McEvers said of the hypothetical residents. “Make it special. Make it valuable. And it helps us out in the long run.”
Council members indicated they will take up the issue again at the Dec. 15 meeting.
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