Zoning changes spark anger

Citizen group fights new county land use code

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COEUR d'ALENE - A collection of Kootenai County residents are rallying against the ongoing rewrite of county development and zoning laws, which some fear is reaching overregulation and infringement of personal property rights.

"We are concerned with all regulations that seek to restrict growth and prosperity," stated Jennifer Locke, Hayden resident and member of Concerned Citizens for Kootenai County, which she called a leaderless collection of grassroots individuals.

County officials, as well as the consulting firm assisting in the rewrite, insist there is simply misinformation about the process and the actual impacts that new standards will have.

"It seems the government is giving rights, but that's not true. They're just setting boundaries," said Todd Messenger of Kendig Keast Collaborative, LLC, the consulting firm helping write the Unified Land Use Code.

The concerned citizens group recently distributed flyers about a public workshop on the ULUC, with warnings of residents' property rights at stake.

With the help of other community members, Locke said, the group has also set up the website www.kcrights.com, which includes a petition to halt the ULUC.

"Our goal is to inform the citizens of Kootenai County about the facts the consultant (KKC) has not shared," Locke stated in an e-mail.

The new ordinances in the ULUC are intended to implement the county's new Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2010, guiding future development in the region.

The new laws will affect all things regarding land use and building, including structure setbacks, building heights and what is allowed in certain zones.

The ULUC only applies to unincorporated county property. The ULUC doesn't impact residents of cities.

When asked which new ULUC standards citizens are irked about, Locke stated, "All of them."

A chief concern is that property owners have not been included in a ULUC advisory committee, she wrote, comprised of local special interests.

"Every special interest group has had a say except property owners," Locke contended.

She also dubbed a new ULUC standard "un-American" that establishes all property uses as illegal, except those the county specifies as legal.

Locke also noted a common fear that KKC will direct growth into a uniform aesthetic that "will destroy our unique character."

Brent Regan, president of Regan Designs, has also spoken out about the ULUC.

He objects to the code's establishment of a new zoning district for clusters of already existing homes. The Established Neighborhood district, previously the Neighborhood Conservation district, will make older nonconforming lots and buildings suddenly conforming with new laws, to expedite modifying or rebuilding those homes.

"They've simplified it by making it more complicated," Regan said of creating a new zone with sub districts. "They're trying to fix regulation with more regulation."

He also derided the county only allowing land uses it specifies.

"Imagine if Congress passed a law that said all human activity is illegal, unless it's permitted," he said.

He believes most details in the code are not necessary to specify, anyway, he said.

"Just the sheer volume of the restrictions is unnecessary," he said, citing setback and height requirements. "If I am 10 feet or 12 feet from the property line, does that really matter?"

Messenger said property owners have been included in the process, and not just through public workshops over the past two years.

Most of the advisory group members are local property owners, he pointed out.

"It's a pretty balanced group of folks, in my view," Messenger said.

KKC is intent on a code preserving the county's rural and unique landscape, Messenger said, as specified in the Comprehensive Plan.

"We want to create something that's consistent with that," he said.

He acknowledged that the ULUC does specify which land uses are legal in each county zone.

But that only applies to primary uses, he said, like whether a commercial or residential use is allowed.

For instance, the draft online specifies that a livestock farm is only permitted on public resource and working lands zones. A town home is only permitted on residential zones.

A sexually-oriented retail establishment can only run as a limited-administrative use on an industrial zone.

Basic, everyday activities that property owners conduct on their properties, like gardening, parties and barbecues, aren't affected by the code, he said.

"When we talk about what's allowed and what's not, we're talking about things like a commercial enterprise that's there all the time," Messenger said. "Not everything people do is a (land) use. People's concern about it extending into every aspect of a person's life is simply not the way it will be administered."

Folks can propose new uses, he said, which the county can apply to already existing zones.

The new zoning district Regan cited will simplify the remodeling process for owners of older homes, Messenger added.

The district will allow such owners to pursue structure changes by meeting with county staff instead of going through a hearing process, he said.

"We think the Established Neighborhood district is a really good thing for people who own homes in Kootenai County," Messenger said.

The state legislature requires the county establish setbacks and building heights, he added.

The next ULUC public workshop will be set sometime in September, county staff said.

Messenger said he expects the first ULUC draft to be complete in the next four to six weeks.

The public can already comment on the available draft at www.kccode.com now, he said, or wait to comment when the entire draft is available.

KKC will respond to all comments, he said.

"We want to do our very best to reflect this very important balance of the appropriate role of government," Messenger said. "But we're also writing rules about what does it mean to be a good neighbor, with respect to use and development of land in Kootenai County."

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