Concerns persist over potential Coolin Wetlands development
Pictured is a portion of the Coolin Wetland system on the south shore of Priest River. After Tricore Investments LLC acquired the property of April 2021, concerns over potential development caused local conservation groups to express concern.
Courtesy AMY ANDERSON
Staff Writer | January 8, 2022 1:00 AM
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PRIEST RIVER — Continued divisions on the potential Coolin Wetlands development were the focus of a presentation by the Selkirk Conservation Alliance to the Lakes Commission Thursday.
Selkirk Conservation Alliance Executive Director Amy Anderson told the commission of 26 new potential lots on the south shoreline of Priest Lake.
“In the span of a few months, these three parcels totaling roughly 65-acres have been subdivided again, truly constituting what should have been considered by the Planning Department as a major subdivision; creating 26 shoreline parcels and possibly eight 5-acre lots, right in the heart of the Coolin Wetlands system,” Anderson said.
Anderson presented a timeline of documents submitted by Tricore Investments LLC, owners of the land, to the Recorder’s Office in 2021. In the spring and summer of 2021, Tricore submitted quick-claim deeds, containing applications for boundary line adjustments, as well as applications for minor land divisions to the Recorder’s Office.
While the Planning Department was rebuked by Anderson for not providing adequate notice or oversight for the changes, Tricore’s actions did not violate any Bonner County codes.
The Planning Department changed that code in 2021 to prevent developers from circumventing the spirit of the law when it comes to dividing property.
“This is a major subdivision,” Anderson said. “Twenty-six brand, spanking-new shoreline parcels that were never publicly noticed or approved by the county and Planning & Zoning Commission or the Board of County Commissioners.”
Title 12 of Bonner County Code allows for administrative approval of minor land divisions. However, the Planning Department changed the wording of Title 12 in 2021 stipulating that multiple minor land divisions cannot take place on properties that are next to each other.
The applications for the boundary line adjustments and minor land divisions were made before Bonner County Code was updated to close the loophole. While a public hearing on the code change was held Aug. 6, the ordinance did not go into effect until Aug. 12, when it was published in the legals section of the Bonner County Daily Bee.
However, Anderson said she isn’t convinced that county code — past nor present — allowed for such boundary line adjustment changes to be approved administratively.
“This information is what SCA learned via numerous public records requests and document searches at the County Recorder’s Office and the Planning Department. None of this information was noticed publicly, nor is it publicly available on the Planning Department website.”
Planning applications are allowed to be submitted to the Recorder’s Office, or the Planning Department. However, applications submitted to the Recorder’s Office cannot be recorded until they gain approval from planning officials.
County code addressing the waiver of land division requirements reads, “the director may waive minor land division, short plat and regular subdivision requirement on parcels to be created that have legal access and the resulting parcel size is not less than 20 acres. … This waiver may be granted upon review of the proposed legal descriptions prior to recording.”
Lakes Commission meetings are held quarterly, and are open to the public. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled in April.
“SCA and our membership have been advocating for the conservation of this wetlands site for many years now. And are deeply concerned over the looming potential development,” Anderson said.
The property was acquired by Tricore in April 2021 after winning a lawsuit awarding them the land, efforts to develop the land later ensued.
“The Chase Lake-Coolin Wetlands system is truly extraordinary,” Anderson said. “The Chase Lake wetlands have been identified as one of only two Class 1 wetland systems out of almost 200 wetlands assessed. Class 1 sites are the most outstanding, most irreplaceable wetlands of highest conservation priority.”
Sites are characterized by richness, rarity, condition, and viability.
“The Chase Lake wetlands out-ranked 99% of the wetlands assessed for these factors,” Anderson said.