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Commissioners approve North Lake development changes

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

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SANDPOINT — A highly contested development planned to be constructed at the mouth of Trestle Creek gained approval to make changes to its site plan.

On Wednesday, Bonner County commissioners approved three changes to the North Lake development consisting of combining three boat storage buildings into one, relocating parking spaces, and moving its septic field.

Although many who oppose the project argued that the development breaks many of the county’s building codes, the county maintains that the project has not violated any of its conditions for approval.

The planned unit development is conditionally approved to be constructed on 24.4-acres at the north fork of Trestle Creek. Owned by Valiant Idaho, LLC, and William Haberman, the project will host five luxury homes, 124 boat slips, and boat storage facilities.

In April, Planning Director Milton Ollerton described what makes up a planned unit development to the county’s newly formed Zoning Commission, which recommended approval of the changes in a split decision.

“A planned unit development is basically the combination of a conditional use permit and a variance,” Ollerton told the commission. “When folks apply for a planned unit development, they indicate deviations from the code as part of the planned unit development. And that was some of the frustration from the public with this application, there were several deviations from the code, which was part of the planned unit development. … That’s how this was reviewed and approved. It allowed for deviations from the code for that reason.”

Members of the public, stage agencies, and other formal organizations have criticized the development, with their primary concerns centering around environmental impacts to Lake Pend Oreille and potential negative impacts on the bull trout habitat in Trestle Creek.

The Endangered Species Act designated bull trout as a “threatened” species in 1999. Idaho Fish and Game indicates that Trestle Creek hosts important spawning grounds for bull trout.

IDFG is one of the many agencies that have spoken against the development. Other agencies include the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, Lakes Commission, Idaho Conservation League, and the Center for Biological Diversity. The agencies have submitted written comments to the county asking them to reconsider the entire project. However, according to the county, such an effort has no legal standing.

Originally passed by county commissioners on January 13, 2021, Planning Director Milton Ollerton said in April that the only way the project as a whole could be taken under consideration is if Valiant Idaho does not fulfill the conditions of approval for the planned development.

Conditional use permits like the one for the North Lake development have a two-year window for conditions to be fulfilled. Agencies that are able to place requirements on the project include the county, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Panhandle Health District, Idaho Fish and Game, and Idaho Department of Lands.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Commissioner Chair Dan McDonald made it clear that the entire file was not being considered, and that the discussion would be limited to the requested changes.

“The charge to you today commissioners is to determine if this modification application is in accord with the original application,” the planning director told the commission early in the meeting. “Staff found that this proposed change is in accord with the current application.”

Bill Wilson, deputy prosecutor and legal advisor to the commission, reiterated the sentiment later on in the meeting.

“You essentially have a dilemma. You either have the status quo, which is the previously approved document, or you have the modification,” Wilson said.

Project representative Scott Brown also reaffirmed the purpose of Wednesday's hearing.

“If this is not approved, we are back to the original plan; it doesn’t necessarily shut this whole project down,” Brown said.

Seven people spoke during public comment, with more donating their time to other speakers. All of those who spoke expressed their opposition to the entire project.

McDonald reminded the audience at the beginning of public comment that the discussion would be limited to the proposed changes; although that didn’t stop many speakers from commenting on the entirety of the project.

“Today’s modification request and our letter just happen to coincide,” said Molly McCahon with the Lakes Commission. “Since your original approval of this [planned unit development] the core dredge and fill permit has been put on hold, and is not approved. … It is our understanding that this modification cannot physically happen without the dredge and fill approval. Allowing ground disturbance with this [planned unit development] would be irresponsible until a decision has been made about state and federal permits that this marina [planned unit development] depends on.”

Other commenters focused on impacts to the environment while simultaneously commenting on the proposed changes.

“While I appreciate that the applicant is trying to reduce impervious surfaces and the drainfield. I think overall the impact from this project would be huge,” Susan Drumheller said. “While some of the changes would reduce impervious surfaces, these variances should have never been approved in the first place. It’s like putting lipstick on a pig. Don’t make this decision with blinders on but look at this holistically.”

Officials from the Idaho Conservation League, and Center for Biological Diversity also commented during the meeting, mainly focusing on required setbacks from wetlands and streams.

After 20 minutes of public comment, the commission deliberated for the same length of time. All three commissioners expressed support for the proposed changes in comparison to the original site plan.

“I see the benefit; reducing hard surfaces, moving the septic farther south — further away from the shoreline. I think this is a much better plan compared with the original plan, especially from an environmental standpoint,” McDonald said.

Commissioner Jeff Connolly emphasized that his task was to compare one site plan against the other.

“One of the things I think we need to be very clear on is we’re here to either say yes to the modification, or no means we go back to the original plan. No doesn’t mean that this thing goes away back to nothing. The original plan will still be enforced,” Connolly said.

Commissioner Steve Bradshaw pointed out that if the project as a whole violated any agency conditions, that they would inform the county.

“I think they’ve done good — they can do better. I’m sure if there’s any hitches in it with the DEQ and civil engineers they would be more than happy to spell that out. They’re not very shy,” Bradshaw said.

Before entertaining a motion to approve the changes, McDonald mentioned that the changed site plan would be better for the environment compared to the prior development plans.

Commissioners approved the development modifications shortly afterward, with members of the audience walking out of the meeting while they were in the midst of the voting process.

Those interested in reaching out to the county commissioners to provide comments can do so by finding their contact information on the county website at BonnerCountyID.gov/commissioners.

As of Friday, there are no other meetings scheduled regarding the North Lake development.

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Courtesy of LAKE PEND OREILLE WATERKEEPER

A March 2021 aerial photo of the site location of the North Lake Development at the mouth of Trestle Creek.

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(Courtesy illustration)

A modified site plan for the Idaho Club North Lake planned unit development near Trestle Creek which features a variety of uses, the most notable of which including five luxury homes, 124 boat-slips, and boat storage facilities.