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Commissioners OK dissolving Planning & Zoning Commission

by ANNISA KEITH
Staff Writer | January 14, 2022 1:00 AM

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SANDPOINT — Bonner County Commissioners voted Wednesday to dissolve the Planning & Zoning Commission, and replace it with two commissions, one to address zoning and the other to address planning issues.

Planning Director Milton Ollerton brought the proposed code change to commissioners, which would dissolve the current Planning & Zoning Commission, and replace it with a Zoning Commission, and Planning Commission.

Changes will be made to Title 12 of Bonner County Code, the portion of code addressing land use regulations in the county. The 236-page document functions as the final word on what can and cannot be built in the county. The entire first page of Title 12 will be replaced to allow for the new changes in governance.

The purpose of the change is to create a solution to the workload the current Planning & Zoning Commission is experiencing, Ollerton said. The planning director pointed out that the workload was so overwhelming that the Planning & Zoning Commission is unable to adequately address the growth and land use options that are of high importance to the county and its residents, specifically sub-area plans and the comprehensive plan.

“The challenge is, last year the planning and zoning commission has been so tied up in hearing land use files that they have not had the time to work on these sub area plans and integrate them into the comprehensive plan,” Ollerton said. “This would give the county an opportunity to further this work more urgently and address the growth.”

“It feels like we’re behind, based on the comments from the community. This would give the county the opportunity to try to address some of these concerns and address the work that needs to be done quicker,” Ollerton said.

The ordinance will go into effect on March 30, giving the county time to advertise the new volunteer positions. The new commissioners will be appointed by the Bonner County Board of Commissioners.

Only one person spoke in favor of the code change, while many spoke against it. One person spoke neutrally.

Current Planning & Zoning Vice Chairman Don Davis spoke in favor of the code change.

“I’m in favor of it. Looking forward to the opportunity for the commission, whoever that is made up of, to spend time specifically on the comprehensive plan update — sorely needed, long overdue. And we’re hampered by the fact that we can’t spend any time on it,” Davis said. “I would myself say, absolutely, please go ahead with it.”

Grassroots organizations focused on county land use were among those who spoke against the change.

“This amendment before you today, it’s not about finishing the comp plan,” said Susan Bowman, speaking against the change. “This amendment will create a new zoning commission that will make it easier to churn out the rezone applications.

“Creating a new hand-picked zoning commission to churn out rezones faster is not what the people of this county want. Nor do we want to sue our own county to enforce our zoning laws,” Bowman said. “Growing the government to get a one-time job done is the height of government waste. We all know that once a government program gets started, it never ends, and it continues to waste our tax dollars.”

Bowman is a member of local organization, Keep Bonner County Rural. The group focuses on land use policy in the county. KBCR submitted its own request to change Title 12 in November.

“An amendment to the zoning code was submitted by Keep Bonner County Rural on behalf of the people of this county in early November. And that amendment would cease the spot zoning that is doubling, tripling, and quadrupling the densities illegally. Yet, the amendment before you today is being heard first even though it was submitted after the peoples’ amendment, why is that?” Bowman asked. “I’m asking you today to please consider the peoples’ amendment before you consider this one that was submitted after.”

Commissioners deliberated the Planning Department’s Title 12 amendment after public comment.

“These guys are working too hard for a volunteer-status type of job,” said Commissioner Jeff Connolly. “I’m not sure, there’s a lot of — a lot of distrust about why this would be done. I’m just not sure. I just don’t see it. I see this as a positive move for Bonner County and a way to get the comp plan done in a more timely fashion.”

Commissioners unanimously voted in favor of the Title 12 amendment.

The new zoning commission will have five commissioners, and the planning commission will have seven. The Zoning Commission will focus on subdivisions, variances, conditional and special use permits, and land owner requested zone permits. The Planning Commission will focus on the comprehensive plan, areas of city impact, and county requested zone changes. Additionally, the Planning Commission will also have a say on amendments to zoning code and the comprehensive plan. Each commission will hold bi-monthly meetings.

To volunteer for either the zoning or planning commissions, inquire with the Planning Department by emailing them at planning@bonnercountyid.gov or by calling their office at 208-265-1458. The Planning Department is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Those who wish to express their views on the change to the county commissioners can do so by contacting the office by phone at 208-265-1438 or in writing by mail or email. Contact information for the county can be found online at bonnercountyid.gov.

Changes to Title 12 can be found on Bonner County’s website by searching “AM0022-21.”

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