Citizens comment on rewrite

Consultant explains changes being made to ordinances

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COEUR d'ALENE - Todd Messenger stated it plain.

"Your ordinances are broken," he said on Wednesday evening at the Kootenai County Administration Building. "I'm here to help."

Comments were just as clear from the more than 150 county residents at the public workshop, where Messenger walked through the rewrite of the county's land use ordinances.

People want to do anything they like on their properties, and they don't want the new code to get in their way.

"As long as my neighbor doesn't open a meth lab, we're good," said Jim Scoggins, who lives outside Athol, during the workshop. "It's his property. It's his business."

Hopefully, legal activities on unincorporated properties will be easier to approve under the new Unified Land Use Code, Messenger emphasized.

Messenger is with Kendig Keast Collaborative, a consulting firm helping rewrite the county's 30 land use and development ordinances.

The new code, still being written, is intended to streamline and clarify the current ambiguous and inconsistent ordinances.

"Over reaching into people's business is not what I'm all about," Messenger promised, welcoming comments and suggestions on the draft so far.

Under the proposed code, large areas of the county with existing homes will be grouped into Established Neighborhood districts, Messenger said, in which buildings will automatically be conforming.

"The Established Neighborhood protects you. Anything with 5 acres or less with houses on it, you're going to be in an EN district. Count on it," he said. "It will be easier for you to make improvements on your land."

There will be less bureaucratic process for other property owners to obtain conforming status, he added, which will help property owners get project approvals and bank loans.

He acknowledged that properties with 5 or more acres would have to keep 90 percent as open space, under the proposed code. But that leaves ample space for homes, he said.

"We're talking about a large amount of land," he said. "You're not going to get above 10 percent on these large properties with your house."

A zoning map corresponding to the new code will identify how individual properties are impacted, he said, including how properties can be subdivided.

"There are two pieces to zoning. One is a code that's a book. And one is a map," Messenger said. "To figure out what part of the book applies, you've got to look at the map."

William Spring, who owns property in the county, objected to the code being presented without the map.

"I can't tell you if my property is grandfathered or not, if I'm in an EN neighborhood or not," he said.

Messenger said a map draft will be presented in workshops around the county next month, and will be adapted according to what residents prefer.

The draft code would also expand the 300-foot radius in which neighbors are notified of hearings on nearby projects, Messenger said.

Also, the hearing examiner would often write decisions after holding a hearing, he said, instead of the commissioners making a decision later.

"If you make an argument to one judge, you don't want the decision to be made by another judge," Messenger said.

Bill Green, Coeur d'Alene resident, questioned decisions being made by an unelected official.

"It sounds like you're describing a set of rules so crystal clear, anyone could come to the same conclusion," he said. "In reality, there's going to be a lot of interpretation."

Many criticized that the zoning and rules on their properties could change.

"People bought their properties under certain rules," said Dalton Gardens resident Kris Carey. "This is changing the rules in the middle of the game and infringing on people's property rights."

But land use rules are prone to change, pointed out Laura Morton of Rocky Mountain Architecture.

"Kootenai County needs this desperately," she said, adding that the current muddled code makes projects hard to pursue. "The (ordinances) don't need to be clarified, they've been clarified 10 times. They need to be rewritten so they're prescriptive."

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