County's land use policy changes
An application for a land use code change brought by the county's planning department met some public opposition at Wednesday's hearing. From left, Deputy Prosecutor Bill Wilson, Commissioner Chair Dan McDonald, and Keep Bonner County Rural Chair Dave Bowman.
Photo by ANNISA KEITH
Staff Writer | May 13, 2022 1:00 AM
SANDPOINT — Specific changes to Bonner County’s land use code passed on Wednesday, but not without some public backlash.
Bonner County commissioners approved an amendment to Title 12 of county code submitted by the Planning Department, specifically about the county’s zoning code.
Title 12 of Bonner County Code addresses land use regulations in the county. The 200-plus page document functions as the final word on what can and cannot be built in the county.
Zoning policy influences where types of structures are allowed to be built. Codes like this aim to keep similar structures and buildings in groups. Examples of zoning include downtown areas, residential neighborhoods, and industrial complexes.
Zones do not physically exist, but they do influence where physical structures are allowed to be built.
In the application, Planning Director Milton Ollerton said the zoning code change would “provide flexibility in addressing concerns of the neighbors, public agencies, and the county.”
Bill Wilson, deputy prosecutor and legal advisor to the commission, outlined the reasons for the change.
“Under this new paradigm we are able to examine factors that might torpedo a file,” Wilson said.
“If someone comes in with a conditional use permit with a zone change, the commissioners can pass it with conditions. If the applicant doesn’t follow through with the conditions, then they can reverse the zone change. And it would help the county require things earlier in the process instead of later on, it helps the commission look at zone changes not in a vacuum.”
Before, the commission was unable to ask questions not strictly about the zone change — a point that dissenters argued during Wednesday’s hearing.
“You already have very broad discretion as per Local Land Use Planning Act. You are required to pay particular attention to impacts on services so you already have that tool in your toolbox that you can use,” Dave Bowman said.
Others speaking in opposition said the change would allow the commission to inject bias into requested zone changes by placing conditions on some projects, but not others.
“I don’t like the situation where you can have two different people ask for zone changes, and one can have conditions and the other one can not. We need something that’s black and white,” Jonna Plante said. “I liked the way this was going at first, but I definitely don’t like it now. You can put different conditions on different land that may be the exact same zone change. I’m absolutely against this.”
Five people spoke during public comment, with only one speaking in favor of the code change.
“I appreciate all these citizen planners that are expressing concerns. But this is a very customary tool we use in almost every jurisdiction,” Jeremy Grimm, owner of Whiskey Rock Planning, said. “I mean, the developer could die or sell. A zone change is forever. These kinds of agreements are binding to the successors and to the property. I think it can really protect the intent on the original zone change application. I would say it’s a good thing.”
A vigorous 20-minute deliberation between county officials followed public comments. Officials from various departments addressed their motivations for the code change, as well as discussing points brought by the public.
Commissioner Chair Dan McDonald directly addressed Dave Bowman’s point regarding the Local Land Use Planning Act.
“LLUPA does say we have to consider [impacts.] But if I have to consider something with no tangible evidence, it makes it very difficult. If we have this agreement, we can look at the plan, and based on that plan we can look at the impacts,” McDonald said. “This is done almost everywhere except for here. Those making noise against this should be championing this thing.”
Another major point of conflict brought up by the public involved another proposed Title 12 change that was not on the meeting’s agenda.
All opposing commenters mentioned a proposed Title 12 change brought by local grassroots group, Keep Bonner County Rural. The file has been going through the application process since November. Commenters said that the county was delaying that application so the county could pass their policy first.
Commissioner Jeff Connolly asked if one proposed change would affect the other.
Ollerton responded saying that the two changes would strengthen one another.
“If their text amendment is passed by the board, this would actually complement it, because it furthers it,” he said. “You’ll get the file here in a couple weeks. It essentially says, ‘We want to know what you’re doing with your property. We want to know what your plans are.’”
Wilson agreed with the planning director's explanation.
“They’re not mutually exclusive. It’s not one or the other. Keep Bonner County Rural’s amendment talks about restricting the approval of the rezones. They can both exist in the code without conflict.”
Wilson has appeared at past workshops for KBCR’s application, a point he brought up to commissioners while they were deliberating.
Commissioner Steve Bradshaw provided his analysis of the changes toward the end of the discussion.
“It gives assurance to the people of the community that the [applicants] are going to have to meet certain standards before going forward. It gives us a certain authority to say what we want,” Bradshaw said. “It gives us a way to control what you want us to control. If you actually read this, it’s a good thing.”
The commission unanimously passed the Title 12 change, adding a new ordinance to the county’s land use policy.
Keep Bonner County Rural’s Title 12 change is scheduled to come before the commission on May 25. More information about KBCR can be found on their Facebook page, or at their website at KeepBonnerCountyRural.org.
The county publishes all upcoming meetings on their website at BonnerCountyID.gov, or physically in the lobby of the administrative building located at 1500 U.S. 2. For those who wish to provide comment to county officials about any of the topics mentioned in this article, contact information can be found on the county’s website.