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Selle rezone to be revisited in April

by ANNISA KEITH
Staff Writer | March 23, 2022 1:00 AM

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SANDPOINT — Another standing-room-only crowd attended Tuesday morning’s Bonner County Board of County Commissioners meeting. Most of those attending provided public input on the now-official reconsideration of the highly contested Selle Valley rezone.

Commissioners will re-hear the zone change request concerning the 714.23-acres of property in the Selle Valley on April 20. The property is owned by Don and Julie Skinner and James and Diane Otis, known jointly as Pack River Partners LLC.

Commissioners approved the zone change on Feb. 9 from Agriculture/Forestry 20 acre minimum to Ag/Forest 10 acre minimum. An application requesting that commissioners reconsider the decision was submitted to the board in the days following.

The county commission’s February decision went against a Nov. 18 recommendation by the Planning and Zoning commission to deny the zone change.

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

That sentiment was expanded upon at Tuesday’s meeting.

“One of our perpetual problems with these rezones is we send those letters out for comment from agencies like school districts, and road agencies, highway districts, and many times we don’t get responses back,” Bill Wilson, deputy prosecutor and legal advisor to the commission, said Tuesday. “Our letter does say that no response will be interpreted as approval.”

Agencies typically don’t respond to county requests for comment, as redrawing lines on a map does not directly impact the daily lives of those using county services in a given area, like schools, water supply, and roadways.

Wilson was hopeful that rehearing the file will give county agencies another opportunity to respond to the planning department’s requests for comment.

“Given the special circumstances of all the public interest in the matter, I think that it would be appropriate to reconsider the file and then re-notice those public agencies. Hopefully now they will understand how much public interest there is here and will be more responsive with the correspondence with the Planning Department. If they don’t respond again, I think it’s safe to assume that they approve of the project,” Wilson said.

Wilson touched upon other topics regarding the reconsideration. He said that the commission was asked to rehear many points in the February decision, however it was his opinion that only some of the requests had enough legal reason to be re-heard.

“If we are going to end up in litigation over this issue, I would hope that a review in court would look at our willingness to take the issue back up would be proof that you’re really trying to honor the [Local Land Use Planning Act],” Wilson finished.

LUPA is a state statute that requires local governments to inquire about potential impacts of how a project, whether it’s one building or a whole neighborhood, would impact county services. Data such as traffic reports, elementary school class sizes, access to water, and wildlife populations are just a few of the things the planning department seeks input from public agencies about when considering a new development.

The highly contested rezone has consistently seen a large public turnout, even if hearings are held during the workday or go late into the evening.

Don Skinner asked county commissioners to approve the rezone in order to restore the zoning designation to the way it was when he purchased the land in 1996.

“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,” Pack River Representative Dan Provo said in February. “One day he wakes up and his land is no longer 10 acre zones, it’s 20 acre zones. That’s half the value, that’s not what he purchased.”

The reconsideration is scheduled for April 20 at the county administration building at 1500 U.S. 2. Those interested in remotely attending have the opportunity to do so via Zoom and can find meeting login credentials on the county’s website at BonnerCountyID.gov. A livestream of the reconsideration hearing will be available on the Bonner County YouTube page, where an archive of previous meetings can also be watched.

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