Conditional use permit appeal nixed

by ALY DE ANGELUS
Staff Writer | May 12, 2020 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — The Sandpoint Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to approve The Ridge multi-family conditional use permit was affirmed at last week’s May 6 council meeting in a vote of 5-1.

Damien and Allison Turcotte appealed the March 3 decision and the council held a quasi-judicial hearing to determine whether or not the development was in direct conflict with the city’s comprehensive plan.

“We live in a small town community and we all appreciate our small town feel, ‘’ Councilman Joel Aispuro said. “A lot of us understand that things are changing and I just want to express that I completely understand the applicant’s desire to build as they feel it is not in conflict with the comprehensive plan, to build what they want to build.”

The planning and zoning commission originally approved the development with six conditions on a 4-2 vote, however a notice of appeal was received on March 17. According to Sandpoint City Code any development of eight units or more triggers the need for a CUP The applicant requested a development of 20 multifamily zone units.

Todd Butler, who spoke on behalf of the developers of The Ridge project, a development to be located between Cedar and Oak streets, led with proposed changes to the original design at the May 6 meeting such as six buildings with three or four units per building and 25 to 30 feet minimum of open space. The previous proposal had 15 units in two buildings separated by less than 10 feet.

“This is the second time we have come before council for our project but since our previous submittal we looked at additional opportunities to address public concerns and incorporate two additional lots into the overall development,” Butler said. “The additional lots gave us an opportunity to provide vehicular access to Oak Street in addition to Cedar as well as pedestrian access connecting Cedar to North.”

Butler responded to points made by Damien and Allison Turcotte’s representative Francis Ogilvie in the appeal. He disputed their assertion that the nature of the proposal was aggressive and in direct conflict with the objectives within the Sandpoint Comprehensive Plan.

Under zoning guidelines the project allows up to 28 units with 28 parking spaces. “I was actually able to create a plan that met these densities, but the owners opted for a less aggressive development,” Butler said.

A second reoccurring issue was the scale, bulk, density and compatibility of the structure as it relates to the integral feel of the neighborhood. This argument was echoed by numerous residents who sent letters and spoke in opposition of the development at the May 6 meeting.

The owner and resident at 1708 Oak St. sent a letter to the council, including a picture of the mountain view from her backyard.

“I bought that house for that view and I will now have no view of the mountains because those buildings are so high,” she said. “Those lights from all of those apartments are going to shine down into our homes and it’s taking away our appreciation of the natural beauty and surroundings that we love here in Sandpoint. I understand that we need more housing and I am not opposed to two stories or less but three stories is excessive. I don’t believe it fits in with the neighborhood nor the idea of our comprehensive plan was to bring neighborhood locals businesses and developers together. This is not bringing us together.”

Another Sandpoint resident directed his comments toward Mayor Shelby Rognstad, in opposition of the project.

“In a previous appeal hearing you (Rognstad) gave us an inspirational monologue with a tough love message that change is painful and a development like this is what Sandpoint needs to solve our housing challenges,” Tom Russell said. “I agree with the spirit of your message, but I believe you are looking at this from a 30,000 foot level rather than focusing on the individual merits or lack thereof of this project. I encourage you to think hard about the people you are representing, the hardworking people of Sandpoint who have chosen to live here for the quality of life or a remote business interests who drop in to exploit vulnerabilities of the code for their own selfish interest.”

During deliberation Aispuro argued against Russell’s comment. “It was said in their own selfish interest, well in this case if you want to build something or you want to keep your own view it’s a selfish interest,” Aispuro said. “I am not saying it’s a bad selfish interest, it’s just a self interest so I want to respect the applicant.”

Currently Cedar Street is primarily a one-story neighborhood with a few two-story buildings. The design of the ridge allows for three-story buildings however, Butler demonstrated that his buildings do not exceed the 40-foot threshold. He visually demonstrated elevation comparison of allowed single and multi-family development designs that did not involve public comment, designs with the same height and less space in between their surrounding structures.

“As much as there is a concern of us developing something to this height, this zone already allows this kind of development and the only reason there is public input on this is because we have had to go through the CUP process because we are providing eight units or more,” Butler said.

Ogilvie also said The Ridge is overdeveloping land and stated that residents would be losing privacy and sunlight. “I can’t believe that any resident in Sandpoint would say that is smooth and appropriate,”

In addition to the building height, Ogilvie and several others expressed concern for an increase in traffic on Cedar and Oak streets. Public Works Director Amanda Wilson said Butler had a volume study conducted by a traffic engineer, and that study did not indicate a need for a full traffic study.

“My personal opinion is Cedar is insufficient in its current state regardless of this development,” she said.

The council voted in favor of the decision made by planning and zoning on March 3 except for Councilman Andy Groat.

Along with the public hearing, Sandpoint city council unanimously approved a new Farmers’ Market agreement to meet social distance protocol and recommendations laid out by the CDC in response to COVID-19. Executive Assistant and Special Events Coordinator Mary Malone presented the modified plan to the city council, which aimed to streamline the event in an area where volunteers can control the number of people coming to the market. The Farmers’ Market is scheduled to reopen on May 16.

The plan is based on recommendations of the Idaho Farmers’ Market Association, University of Idaho and other area markets. Some adjustments include suspending Wednesday operations until further notice and utilizing the city parking lot to accommodate 32 vendors and 50 customers at a time.

City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton also recommended going back to the semi-regular meeting schedule which was unanimously approved. “Particularly so we don’t reach the point of meeting exhaustion when we are in the process of preparing our budget for council for next fiscal year,” She said. The next meeting will be on May 20.

Aly De Angelus can be reached by email at adeangelus@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @AlyDailyBee.