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Council approves development — with conditions

by EMILY BONSANT
Staff Writer | February 13, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — The City Council approved a 13-unit townhouse development on the north side of town with several conditions.

Approval is predicated on the condition they push back the second stories of the townhouses looking into neighbors’ backyards, or acquire 10 feet of land to the south and push back buildings 10 feet.

The proposed 13-unit development is located in the 600 block of N. Lincoln Avenue and the 1800 block of Main Street and sits on 1.13 acres. It was approved by the Planning & Zoning commission for a conditional use permit Dec. 7, 2021. Neighbors James and Leanna Nixon, who live directly north of the development, appealed the development on Dec. 21, 2021.

The Nixons were approached by the property's owners, William and Cathy Freedman, along with a business partner to see if they wanted to sell their property. The pair declined the offer and a subsequent one asking if they would sell 10 feet along their property line.

The Nixons said they refused to sell the second time partially because they were concerned the business partner is facing legal trouble. The Nixons said that concerned them because the man came to their home twice, once with Cathy Freedman.

The Freedmans disputed those claims, saying their business partner was an incredible human being, adding what was said was both inaccurate and irrelevant. The project is owned internally by them, the couple said.

City attorney Fonda Jovick said Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon was made aware of the situation. The department reviewed the matter and said they were not aware of any crimes involving him in their jurisdiction.

Mayor Shelby Rognstad told the Nixons that he sympathized with their concerns, but noted the matter before the council was strictly the conditional use permit.

“I did not hear applicants disavow his involvement except to say ‘we are the owners of the property.’ I think we are all sophisticated enough to know that does not mean he is not involved,” Featherston said.

When it came to the proposed development, the Nixons said they are concerned that there would be a 30-foot tall structure, spanning the length of their backyard, shading their property and allowing new residents to view into their backyard and home.

Steven Steen, attorney for the developers, said the city already adopted standards to the project and code, adding people like density as long as it is balanced right. An example of this was the desirability for south Sandpoint property, he said.

Steen said that the Freedmans are discussing purchasing 10 feet of land to the south to accommodate the setbacks.

However the Nixons’ attorney Brent Featherston said the proposal should be sent back to P&Z since more information has come to light. A purchase and sale agreement of the southern property “may alleviate some of the objections” the appellants had.

Another issue of the proposed development was that there would be a private drive running through given access to Main Street and N. Lincoln Avenue. Neighbors expressed concerns that the private drive would be a public safety hazard since parking would not be regulated by Sandpoint Police since it would be private property.

During public comment, other neighbors in close proximity to the proposed development voiced concerns for drainage, snow removal, garbage collection, added safety hazards due to more vehicles and a lack of green area for children in the development.

Three people spoke positively about the development in public comment, commending the developers for filling the housing need in the community. The appellants’ attorney commented in rebuttal that two of those who spoke were a real estate official and property manager.

Councilman Joel Aispuro said the housing crisis is not going to be solved with this development. Councilman Andy Groat said that the council has heard they need more homes, but have also heard that a development is desirable, but not in the right location.

“I think this is an appropriate infill, what has led me to that is what city staff has provided for us.” Groat said.

Councilwoman Kate McAlister agreed, she said she felt for the appellant.

“We are going to lose a whole generation of young people if we don’t provide housing,” she said.

The motion to amend the conditional use permit originally failed 2-3. City Planner Daren Fluke clarified to the council that the amendment to the conditional use permit would add the condition that the applicant would either have to provide proof of purchase of the 10 feet from the southern property, or push back the second story to give more distance from the neighbors. The site plan would have to be revised and still meet conditions.

He said this could be done when the three parcels go through their lot line adjustment to make it into one parcel. This could also allow the applicant the ability to push the second floor of the townhouses back to allow more privacy to neighbors.

Aispuro renewed the motion to amend and it passed 3-2. Councilmembers Groat, McAlister and Deb Ruehle voted yes. Councilmen Aispuro and Justin Dick voted no. Councilman Jason Welker was not in attendance due to having a relationship with the applicants and being the chairman of the P&Z committee at the time.

The full recording of the meeting is available on the city of Sandpoint YouTube channel.