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Selle Valley rezone request unanimously denied

by ANNISA KEITH
Staff Writer | November 20, 2021 1:00 AM

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SANDPOINT — After a three-and-a-half hour workshop on Thursday evening, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously denied a 720-acre Selle rezone application.

The application requested that 714.23-acres in the Selle Valley be rezoned from Ag/Forest-20 to Ag/Forest-10. Submitted by Don and Julie Skinner and James and Diane Otis, known jointly as Pack River Partners LLC, the application said that the rezone would allow the owners to “have usable options for the parcels, like the surrounding area.”

The surrounding land is zoned Ag/Forest-20 on all sides besides a portion to the west, zoned Ag/Forest-10.

In advocating for approval, Don Provo, representative for Pack River Partners LLC, said the measure is similar to past zoning of the property, detailing the zoning history of the area at the beginning of the meeting.

“Prior to 1978 there was no zoning out there,” Provo said. “Two years later they attached an Ag-10. It stayed Ag-10 until 2008. [For] 28 years, the land that we are requesting a zone change on was 10 acre minimums.”

“My client purchased that property in 1996. When he purchased it, it was zoned Ag 10. He did not want his property changed from 10s to 20s,” he continued. “I know people like wide open spaces, but this is still private property.”

In a narrative submitted to the Planning and Zoning Department on May 24, the land was described as having a “semi-rural feel,” and Pack River Partners said rezoning of the parcel could help alleviate the housing shortage in Bonner County.

“The proposed zone change helps to focus growth in an area where there are adequate public services, as well as providing for economic growth and affordable housing,” the partners said in the document.

Planning and zoning commissioners questioned Provo about the request, including why the zone change was necessary.

“He wants to go in there and put one or two 10s so he can keep a larger area of land for what he does do,” Provo responded. “He’s not a developer, that’s why it’s stayed large and now he’s caught in this 20-acre web.”

The response caused Commissioner Suzanne Glasoe to ask why the applicant would request a zone change if they were not intending to develop it, causing the standing-room-only audience to erupt in applause,

“A couple of times it was stated that he was not a developer and he wasn’t going to develop it. And I look at the application and it’s in direct conflict with what you have stated,” Glasoe said. “If he’s not going to develop it I don’t know why we’re all here tonight.”

Provo told the commission that the answer boils down to providing options to the land owners, adding that Pack River Partners LLC wanted to divide the land into Ag/Forest-10 because they were uncertain that they would have the ability to do so in the future.

“Typically things get more and more difficult to do what you want to do. It’s just looking ahead, it’s just preserving private land while he has the options,” Provo said.

The proposed rezone drew numerous comments, with 29 people choosing to speak, with many others giving up their time so those who spoke could talk longer than their allotted three minutes. All of the comments — which took a combined 90 minutes — were against the proposed zone change. Among the concerns were whether the request adhered to the comprehensive plan, the ability to provide services to the prospective homes, and wells that have gone dry in the valley. Many urged the commission to follow the code and not change it.

“The moral values of this county are on the block here,” said Jeanelle Shields. “If we lose the vision of the comprehensive plan of the Selle Valley to developers, it’s not planning and it’s certainly not progress, it’s poor stewardship.”

Representatives for Keep Bonner County Rural and Kaniksu Land Trust both urged the planning commission to reject the request.

“This corridor is an important component of the rural fabric of the Selle Valley,” said Kay Fox on behalf of the Kaniksu Land Trust. “The decision to double the allowable density on these lands would have a noted impact on the rural character of this valley into the future.”

“This is an example of up-zoning in a really treasured area,” said Susan Drumheller, a member of Keep Bonner County Rural. “People are starting to see their way of life change, and the resources are being impacted.”

Other members of Keep Bonner County Rural also chose to speak.

“Are our zoning ordinances in Bonner County a facade, just an illusion?” said Don Holland. “This type of change in zoning should only be the rare exception, rather than the rule. And unfortunately I think we’re seeing the opposite.”

The Planning and Zoning commission deliberated for nearly an hour after public comments.

They considered partially approving or denying the application. They also discussed the definitions of Ag/Forest-20 compared to Ag/Forest-10, and what a prospective development could do to the available services in the valley.

“I agree that we don’t have enough information about the impact to services in the area,” said Commissioner Dave Frankenbach. “I don’t think we have enough information here given the potential magnitude of this.”

“Are both comprehensive plan map amendments and zone changes required to be at a decision within 10 days?” asked Commissioner Don Davis.

Another member of the Planning and Zoning department answered that it was, as per a code change in the recent past.

“So we are under the gun to make a decision within 10 days of today,” Davis said.

“The other difficult thing,” Davis said, “if someone makes a motion to deny, then that person has to say why the conclusions of law aren’t there.”

Shortly after, Frankenbach made a motion to deny the zone change because it did not align with the comprehensive plan’s land use for the area. Frankenbach cited a lack of public services, implementation, natural resources, transportation, and school facilities in the area in his motion to deny.

“The proposal is not in compliance with title 12 of Bonner County revised code. The decision is based on the information provided by the staff report and testimony given at this hearing,” Frankenbach said.

Two commissioners gave a second vote to Frankenbach’s motion. The commission unanimously denied the Selle Valley zone change.

The next step for Pack River Partners LLC, if they choose to proceed, will be to file a new application with the planning department.