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County's Comp Plan causing confusion

by DANIEL RADFORD
Staff Writer | September 6, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Confusion abounded as the Planning Commission met for what they thought would be the public discussion on the goals, objectives, and policies of the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

The first final meeting began with a presentation by county planner Swati Rastogi when she summarized the July 19 changes to the current goals, objectives, and policies. The document, at that time, had been updated on Aug. 2 and Aug. 16.

At the public hearing, Planning Chairman Alan Songstad expressed concern that some of the changes that were made last meeting were not in the plan, prompting him to ask if the document was current.

“What we are hearing today is still the July 19 updates because that was noticed when the application was put forward,” Rastogi said.

Planning officials said the hearing was not intended to discuss any of the changes made at the two public workshops.

However, Songstad said there had been significant changes since the July 19 document was reviewed. In order to consider recommendation of the later updates, including those changes made Aug. 30, for a vote by Bonner County commissioners, the latest document would have to be noticed to the public, Rastogi said.

“You have probably gathered that we were a little surprised about what we were actually going to do tonight,” Songstad told the audience. “If there are public comments I would hope … but you have not seen the draft. If you have any comments I guess we're here to hear them.”

Rastogi said the Aug. 16 document was not published because “it is a document that is being worked on currently.” She did not specify the work being done to the document, which had been edited at the second and final public workshop on Aug. 16.

A man in the back shouted out “I want to comment but I do not know what to comment on.”

“​​I was hoping that you'd be able to comment on the changes that were made as a result of the Aug. 16 meeting which were substantial,” Songstad said.

Jennifer Ekstrom of the Idaho Conservation League said she empathized with the commission's dilemma.

“It is exactly the type of problem that Idaho Conservation League, Project 7B, and the Lakes Commission perhaps anticipated when we originally submitted comments,” Ekstrom said. “I'm asking you to extend the process and have a robust public engagement process in this.”

Ekstrom expressed concern that, while public comments dated Aug. 23 (the last day when written comments were accepted by the board) had appeared under the file on the county website, her comment submitted on Aug. 22 was not listed.

At the previous workshops, most of those who asked for clarification on the drafting process and Planning Commission procedures were shut down immediately by Songstad.

At the Aug. 2 workshop, Ekstrom suggested the commission hire a professional planner in an effort to remedy confusion about the process. Songstad responded that comments were supposed to be confined to the content of the document, not the process of its drafting and approval.

At the first workshop Susan Drumheller of Project 7B also took issue with the process. “This is not authentic public involvement,” she said.

“Scheduling these in August when most people are either on vacation or wanting to be outside and enjoy the weather … I would echo what [Ekstrom] requested, that you slow down, pause, kind of go back to the drawing board as far as the process goes,” Drumheller said.

On Aug. 30, Rastogi detailed the various noticing regulations and Open Meeting Law requirements pertinent to the commission’s work.

Following two complicated motions, one which was withdrawn and another which extended the process, Planning Commissioner Don Davis remarked that “Captain Roberts is spinning in his grave right now.”

Eventually, the consensus of the commission was to extend the process until Sept. 20, to allow final edits and considerations of the goals, objectives, and policies. That has delayed the recommendation of the document to county commissioners until at least early October.

The commission then proceeded to amend the Aug. 16 draft, with the goal of noticing the public and recommending a final draft to the public within the above timeframe.

Songstad said the process is aimed at making the current goals, objectives, and policies more compatible with the existing comp plan but also to guide the next plan as well.

Davis disagreed, saying the process does not address any future Comprehensive Plan changes, but was necessitated by the fact that the current Comp Plan was no longer in sync with the existing goals, objectives, and policies.

“Don [Davis] has a different view than I do… This is for the future, for the current and future,” Songstad said.

Ultimately, revisions to the proposed draft were less invasive than on Aug. 16. The Aug. 30 update added seven pages to the document. On Aug. 30, the updates only saw the document grow in length by one page.

Strong language was added to protect mining, which is mentioned as protected twice and as valued once in the latest draft. The amended document would also require adequate provisions for future utility services in residential areas while attempting to avoid adversely impacting the services or utilities of the utility provider.

The text would also state, if passed, that development within a floodway should be prohibited, rather than discouraged. It would also direct the county to avoid unnecessary upzoning and increased land use unless such a change addresses “a clear, useful and significant public purpose and the denial is not unduly oppressive to the landowner.”

Another point was added to the proposed agricultural policies that, if passed, would state that “Bonner County acknowledges the provisions of Idaho State’s Right to Farm Act. Those shall be considered in the land use decisions.”

Information: To read the latest updates to the proposed goals, objectives, and policies and search, go to BonnerCountyID.gov “AM0012-22” to find the posted public comments and previous drafts.

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