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Proposed arts venue pulled from consideration

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | March 2, 2021 1:00 AM

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KOOTENAI — A proposed amphitheater and outdoor event venue overlooking Boyer Slough has been dropped.

The Bonner County Planning & Zoning Commission had been scheduled to hold a public hearing Thursday on a conditional use permit for the proposed Whiskey Jack Arts Venue.

Laurie and Katelyn Shook said they made their decision after talking it over with family and friends and reviewing both their options and the conditions of approval for the project. Known professionally as The Shook Twins, the pair announced Monday they retracted their application, saying it was "in the best alignment" of all involved.

"We hear the neighbors’ concerns and we agree that this proposed arts venue could potentially create adverse impacts to the residential neighborhoods, due to increased traffic and lack of a second emergency exit," the pair said in a statement.

They also did not want to force a rebuild of "the quaint little bridge on Whiskey Jack" and did not want to disturb their neighbors, many of whom expressed concern over the idea, they said in a statement.

"We wanted you all to know that we respect the quiet ruralness of this place and never had intentions of loudly disrupting it," the pair said. "500 person events 2 times per month was not the intention. We just wanted to bring a few special public events per summer to the people and kids of the community."

The venue, proposed for the Shook family's property at 845 Whiskey Jack Road, had a proposed maximum capacity of 500 people with the site open for concerts, weddings, receptions, retreats, campouts and catered events, according to the permit application.

A staff report recommended denial, finding the project was not consistent with the Bonner County Revised Code. However, possible conditions were included in the report for the Planning Commission to consider if they chose to approve the project, Milton Ollerton, Bonner County Planning Department director, said.

The project received just over 30 comments from neighbors, with many expressing concern over potential traffic, noise, and emergency access, Ollerton said.

While the report recommended the project's denial, Ollerton said he was impressed the pair took the time to consider concerns raised by staff neighbors and agencies.

"They asked a lot of questions and were very sincere and deliberate in their consideration of withdrawing their application," he said.

For the project to move forward, the report said the venue would have to better address potential impacts to the neighborhood. The conditional use permit would expire after two years, but could have been extended for an additional two years.

Events would have been capped at two per month with a maximum of 500 people, and any stage and amenities could be no closer to the shoreline than 40 feet from the high water mark. Specific guidelines on location of impervious surfaces, vegetative buffers, and stormwater management plan also were outlined.

The venue also would have been required to submit a transportation plan, including how vehicles arriving and leaving an event would be managed at Whiskey Jack and Highway 200.

"The concept of a private event center is not consistent with the comprehensive plan and the Bonner County Revised Codes unless the applicant better addresses the potential impacts to the neighborhood," planning staff said in the report.

An undeveloped county road, Whiskey Jack has a narrow 30-foot easement with a well-known narrow bridge leading to the property. Lack of a second ingress/egress access to the site and everyday use creating backups in traffic on Kootenai Bay Road prevents them from recommending the project, staff said in the report.

While the county encourages projects that offer an economic boost, planning staff said the proposal failed to fully consider the negative impact it could have in the area.

"Without a traffic plan addressing the amount of traffic in and out on an underdeveloped road from a single access point, crossing railroad tracks that can block the entire area shows there is no consistency with these goals in the comprehensive plan," staff said.

While the site might not be the right spot for the project, Laurie and Katelyn Shook said they reserved the right to host personal events on a very limited basis at the site with respect to the surrounding community.

"Even though our parents’ Whiskey Jack property may not be the right place for our dream venue, for now we still plan to bring our musical friends to this town, utilizing the existing venues like the Panida and the Hive," Laurie and Katelyn Shook said.