Acreage pulled from plan proposal

Critics worry move could delay plan's implementation

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COEUR d'ALENE - Some community members are concerned that information the Kootenai County commissioners removed from the proposed county Comprehensive Plan could delay implementing the document already years in the making.

During their ongoing deliberations on the document last week, the commissioners voted to pull all acreage designations from the plan, which specified the range of development density for all land use areas.

Commissioner Rick Currie justified that such specifics don't fit in the purely visionary document, intended as only a road map of how development should be shaped in Kootenai County over the next 10 years.

"The Comp Plan is a guide," Currie said on Monday. "We didn't feel that those designations belonged in the Comp Plan. Rules belong in the zoning ordinances that implement the plan."

But Terry Harris, executive director of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, argued that the loss of the designations will drag out the implementation of the plan, as the document will offer no direction on what designations to insert into new zoning and subdivision ordinances.

"The detailed and quantitative decisions made in the zoning ordinances that supposedly get written after this Comp Plan gets done - that's a much more complicated and difficult decision, if there's no guidance in the Comp Plan," Harris said.

He worried the commissioners wanted to simply duck a difficult decision, as there has been controversy over density designations, particularly in rural areas.

"Our view of it is the rural areas of Kootenai County need to be developed at a lower density in order to protect the rural landscape, but also to prevent sprawl and allow orderly annexation of the cities on the prairie," he said. "Making a conscious decision to have low density in the rural lands is something this Comp Plan absolutely needed to have."

He added that he sees no reason why the acreage designations, which specify densities in areas like rural, urban, shoreline and planning communities, wouldn't be included in the plan.

"One of the main goals of the Comp Plan is to decide how much density goes where in the county. That's what the Comp Plan does," Harris said.

Dan Green, chairman of the county Planning Commission that drafted the document, was upset to learn the commissioners removed the detail.

"The issue was always going to have to be addressed in the development regulations, but now the person (drafting the regulations) has very little guidance on what we want," said Green, who is also running for Rich Piazza's commissioner seat. "The Comp Plan is made up of goals and policies, but this was part of the vision."

He added that the commission spent a good deal of time deciding on the designations that were written in the draft.

"I would say it was very important. There was a lot of discussion on that," Green said. "It (removing the designations) definitely makes drafting the development regulations far more cumbersome."

Harris also worried that this Comprehensive Plan could suffer the same problem as the 1994 version, which was never implemented because the county failed to create new ordinances carrying out the document's directions.

"We have ordinances that go back to 1974," he pointed out.

But Tom Torgerson of Century 21 Beutler and Associates pointed out that the commissioners have already announced they will be hiring an outside firm to write new laws implementing the plan.

"We're going to get a third party who doesn't have special interests in mind. They'll have everybody's interests as to what they'll see best fits," Torgerson said. "Why tie the hands of people who do this professionally by telling them already what it (the designation) is going to be?"

Members of the local real estate industry have long urged the commissioners to remove the designations, he added, on the basis that specific designations are not called for in the Land Use Planning section of Idaho Code.

"It doesn't say anything anywhere about densities. So if you create a visionary document with regulatory language, you're actually usurping the process," Torgerson said. "This isn't that we're hoping to get higher densities or that we necessarily want higher densities. We want the Comp Plan to follow what we believe the state mandates it to be."

The North Idaho Building Contractors Association has also been fighting for the county to scrap the designations, said Life Erickson, president of the organization.

"There are places where this stuff is handled. Like at Planning and Zoning, not in the Comp Plan," Erickson said. "This is definitely a good step in the right direction."

Currie added that the firm eventually hired to create new ordinances will have access to the Planning Commission's recommended designations.

The commissioners might make their own recommendations, too, he added.

The final acreage decision will be made by the commissioners, but proposed ordinances will be presented at public hearings.

The county started working to update the 1994 Comprehensive Plan in 2006 with the Keziah Watkins report. The Planning Commission completed the final draft of the new plan last January.

The commissioners are currently deliberating the final chapter of the Comprehensive Plan.

The document will go through a public comment period and a public hearing before the ordinance process begins.

"The Comp Plan is an extremely important document," Currie said. "It's not a document you just approve for the purpose of approving a document."

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