University Park, the subdivision plans, and developers’ case for building

by RACHEL SUN
Staff Writer | November 6, 2020 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT —Developers won preliminary approval of their development plans for a 152-lot subdivision for the long-contested University Park in a city council meeting held Wednesday.

In that meeting, they also made several requests of the council to allow more leniency to reduce costs as the development is built, several of which were approved in a 4-1 vote. This included a deferral and removal of certain previously added requirements, including adding a right turn lane and certain requirements for snow removal covered in Wednesday’s article on the city council.

The developers also asked for the council to allow flexibility on building materials used for a fence along N. Boyer Avenue, and the extension of the building time frame from two years to five.

In his argument against further restrictions from the city, Jeremy Grimm, the representative for Tim McDonnel K-M Enterprises and Derek Mulgrew M & W Withholdings LLC, noted his client’s longstanding presence in the community and plans to hire local contractors.

“[The] developers is a local developer and has developed nine subdivisions over the last 25 years. He's a fourth-generation Sandpoint [resident]. And it's clear to me he cares about this community as much as any of us,” he said. “This project will include work from 126 contractors and subcontractors.”

Mulgrew also addressed the council directly, pointing to his and McDonnel’s voluntary work with Kaniksu Land Trust to dedicate a portion of the land.

Katie Cox, the executive director of KLT, said the organization fully supports the development despite the lack of a legally binding agreement. That is in large part, she said, because the nonprofit cannot dedicate their resources to more comprehensive plans until further development is approved.

“We were thrilled when we received this call,” she said. “[The property] could have been purchased by a developer who is focused more on the bottom line and not interested in taking 15 acres for conservation and public access.”

“We're a local team,” he said. “We care about the community. We live here ourselves. And the partnership with Kaniksu Land Trust should, I think, should really be the thing that proves that to you.”

Developers who are not local, he said, might have done more to increase profit and less to benefit the community.

“This property, it’s got a ton of history, it's really important to the community, and we wanted to preserve it,” he said.

McDonnel, who also spoke to the council, said building affordable housing is a priority.

“I started my first subdivision in Sandpoint 25 years ago,” he said. “Our business model has always been to build affordable single-family housing examples and we’ve been doing that for the last 25 years.”

Council member Joel Aispuro asked what McDonnel’s definition of affordable housing would mean.

The last subdivision he built in the past year was in Sandpoint, McDonnel said, and included five homes.

“Our highest price was $330,000,” he said. “We averaged out about $350,000 to $320,000. So we're consistently between $30,000 and 50,000 over my career below what the medium is.”

The developers also requested the allowance of a building bond, which would them to start building the first portion of the development early in exchange for underwriting 150% of the construction costs.

That request came due to the limited season allowing for road paving, which are generally required along with installations like fire hydrants before housing construction can begin.

In regards to this request, the city’s legal counsel advised against allowing construction bond liability reasons. While Grimm assured council members no residents would be allowed into the buildings until the development was completed, council members remained undecided Tuesday night.

Council member Shannon Sherman said she respects the city’s legal counsel, and was hesitant to move to approve a bond.

The council instructed staff to negotiate further with the applicants and return the issue to the council at a later date.

“Playing devil's advocate, I understand the staff and legal protecting the city,” Aispuro said. “I think there are things we can work on with the applicant [with the bond] … but I've never personally dealt with that situation.”

Adrian Cox, the only person to speak during the public hearing outside of Grimm and the developers, spoke in favor of the project.

Cox said he believed the requests made by developers, including the three-year building extension, bond request and deferral of a turn lane seemed fair for local developers building much-needed housing.

“I’m a resident in town, and also an employer. I have 50 employees who are impacted by the lack of affordable housing,” he said.

Council member Deb Ruehle, the only “no” vote on the passage of the plans and amendments to them, said she worried the design of the subdivision would close off the neighborhood from the rest of Sandpoint.

Ruehle said that based on her prior experience on the Planning and Zoning Committee and readings into the impact of neighborhood design on communities, she was concerned over the proposed developments inward-facing buildings.

“It’s in my opinion that the development is turning its back on the community,” she said. “We could do better.”