COEUR d'ALENE - Kootenai County has a winner.
The county commissioners on Tuesday fingered a national consulting firm with decades of planning experience to assist in the two-year process of rewriting county laws to implement the new Comprehensive Plan.
Kendig Keast Collaborative, which has offices in Colorado, Texas, Illinois and California, was the favorite of the community panels that helped vet the applicants, said Commissioner Todd Tondee.
"This is a huge step forward for us," Tondee said after the commissioners voted 2-0 to confirm the choice.
"It's been a long time coming," agreed Commissioner Dan Green. "And we're not done yet."
Kendig Keast offered several details that set it apart from the other three final applicants, the commissioners said.
For one, Tondee said, it offered the ideal balance of involving county staff and the public in drafting new ordinances and regulations, which will affect how development is shaped and enforced across the county for decades to come.
Kendig also promised to thoroughly educate Building and Planning staff on new policies.
"It's going to be quite a lot of changes, and we'll need staff to implement them," Tondee said.
Green added that Kendig was the only firm that would provide interactive software spelling out what's allowed on parcels under new laws.
"Property owners will be able to access that from their homes," Green said.
Tondee said that Commissioner Jai Nelson, who was out of town on Tuesday, also supported the choice.
Four panels comprised of community members heard pitches from the final applicants last week and submitted score cards to the commissioners on their top picks.
Terry Harris of Kootenai Environmental Alliance, which was included among the panels, said all the applicants were very impressive.
"I think the commissioners deserve a lot of credit for bringing in some really high quality firms. This bodes well for that process," he said.
Harris noted Kendig Keast for its strong grasp of updating zoning codes in a short period, he said, as well as a focus on including the public in the process.
"They were pretty clear that that's going to be necessary, and we would certainly agree," Harris said.
Protecting shoreline and rural areas are where KEA would like to see the firm focus in the new laws, he added.
"Their firm is actually respected for that kind of work," Harris said.
Bret Keast, president of Kendig Keast, said he hadn't heard any official confirmation from the county on Tuesday afternoon.
His firm hopefully set itself apart because of its 30 years of writing codes in complex environments, Keast said.
"We've done over 100 codes across the country," he said.
Kootenai County, he added, will pose challenges in its sundry environments, spanning rural, agriculture and urban.
"Different regulations have to cater to different issues, and just involve the variety of people who represent all those different interests," he said.
He added that he has never before encountered an application process with community panels that lasted from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"It's usually just a single panel in the course of an hour," Keast said with a chuckle. "I applauded the county for their approach. We enjoyed meeting all the individuals, and there was a good representation of all the folks we'll encounter throughout the process."
The county will enter immediately into contract negotiations with the firm, Tondee said.
County staff hopes to start working on writing new development regulations with the firm within 30 to 60 days.
The county set aside $350,000 to contract a consulting firm a few years ago.
Nelson said on Monday that rewriting the laws is an enormous endeavor, and will surely be part of the current commissioners' legacies.
"The decision of picking a consultant is far reaching," she said.