Sunday, December 03, 2023

BOCC again vacates Camp Bay Road

by KATHY HUBBARD Contributing Writer
| December 20, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — After a lengthy hearing, Bonner County commissioners again voted Monday to vacate a portion of Camp Bay Road in Sagle.

The vote came after officials faced a crowded room of both supporters and critics of the Camp Bay Road vacation. After hearing additional information from the developer and hearing testimony from both sides, county commissioners unanimously voted to approve the motion to “vacate a portion of Camp Bay Road as shown on the submitted site plan … based upon the evidence submitted up to the time the Staff Report was prepared, and testimony received at this hearing.”

This court-ordered hearing, although tied to the vacation, specifically focused on the developer’s proposal to create a walking path and whether or not it would be in the public interest. County counsel, Bill Wilson, explained that the scope of the meeting was defined to specifically address the walking path, and that speakers would be held to that topic. However, he said that there would be no time limits put on speakers.

Despite officials’ refusal to allow a citizen to take a straw poll of attendees, it seemed that the room, filled with close to 100 people, was evenly divided between those in favor and those opposed to the proposed plan. For over four hours, commissioners were presented with strong, and often emotional, opinions as to what constitutes public interest.

Jake Gabell, Bonner County Planning director, presented the board with amended conditions for acceptance for the applicant that included the addition of requiring the developer to provide designated parking area for passenger vehicles which would not impede the county turn-around. The conditions also stated that the county would not provide maintenance for the trail, and that easement for the path must be a minimum of 20-feet wide.

Bill Brownlee, the representative for the developer, M3, gave an overview of the proposed walking trail that included a description of how the Camp Bay path could eventually be linked to other trails such as those at Mineral Point and Gamlin Lake.

Brownlee acknowledged that some people think the proposed site of the trail is inferior, in part because it has a stream running through it. He said they would work with the Forest Service and county staff to take into consideration the public’s objections.

“This plan provides guaranteed access to the lake,” Brownlee said. “We want to make this into a great spot. We don’t want to develop something detrimental. We want to create value for our residents and the public.”

The citizens who spoke against the project had many points of concern. For instance, the parking area would be approximately a half mile from the lake. Those who portage kayaks, if in fact they were physically able to carry them, would not only need to make the trip once, but two or more times in order to bring along necessary gear.

Many spoke to the fact that the disabled would no longer have access to the lake at Camp Bay. Children, grandchildren and the elderly were also called out as potentially not being able to walk the path. Even the granddaughter of the original owner cited her inability to access the lake by the trail.

In addition to the stream mentioned by Brownlee, others mentioned a culvert, a rough and difficult terrain, and a “formidable” elevation. The area was described by one as “a swamp,” and, by another, as a “crappy spot.”

One person questioned the safety of people swimming in the lake due to the proximity to the proposed boat docks. Another questioned what would happen if someone needed emergency care, how that would be handled when the trail is only accessible by non-motorized vehicles? The fact that the trail couldn’t be used in winter was also a concern as was what times of day the trail would be open. And the final question, what about public restrooms?

Those in favor of the project stated that much of the information published in the press and on social media was not factual. Realtor Eric Skinner gave the example that there was a misconception that the area was swampy.

“It’s a beautiful part of the lake. It’s a sandy area, not rocky and there’s a beautiful cedar forest,” he said. “It’s not a cruddy option, the slope follows the road.”

Jane Edwards, a resident of Camp Bay, said last summer few people used the existing access. She said, “If everyone wants to come to Camp Bay, where were they? I approve the walking path. I approve the vacation. Development is inevitable.”

Several of those in favor of the footpath stated that they thought the developer was being very generous. They felt it was in the best interest of the whole community. Resident Jim Frank called it “an unbelievable gift to the public. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

A fair amount of people urged commissioners to table the issue. They thought that additional information provided at this meeting needed to be discussed more thoroughly. And they believed that in light of two new council members being elected and due to take over in just a few weeks, the decision should be left to them.

Council members disagreed. Commissioner Dan McDonald said “kicking the can down the road” wasn’t an option. He and Commissioner Jeff Connolly said they have been working on this issue for close to two years and they were better prepared to make a considerate decision.

Commissioner Steve Bradshaw said, “I’ll defend property rights until the day of my death. I want to do something that protects the rights of property owners, that’s good for the public, and defendable.”

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