COEUR d'ALENE - Kootenai County has posted the first complete draft of its new land use code online, following a year-and-a-half-long process that had some property owners wary that their rights were threatened.
The draft Unified Land Use Code aims for simpler development standards, said Todd Messenger with Kendig Keast Collaborative, the consulting firm that has helped the county write the document.
It should also allow faster decisions and better notice to neighbors on proposed projects, he said.
"We hope to make things easier," Messenger said. "The existing codes we think are badly broken."
The new code is intended to streamline and update land use and development ordinances that contractors and property owners have complained are convoluted. The code will also implement the new Comprehensive Plan, a guiding document about future development in the county.
The best benefit, said Scott Clark, director of county Community Development, is that the ULUC will replace the current 30 ordinances related to land use regulation.
"The regulations are all encompassed in one document (in the ULUC), instead of being individual ordinances that don't work together because they're written separately," Clark said. "I think that's going to be very helpful to everyone in trying to work through land use issues."
The draft, viewable at www.zoningplus.com/regs/kootenai/index.aspx?Nav=browse, is currently being reviewed by a technical committee.
Another draft will be completed after the review, and posted for a 60-day comment period. That will be followed by: A Planning Commissioner hearing on the document, the publishing of a third revised draft, another 60-day public comment period, then a final hearing by the county commissioners.
"I think really a lot of people are just taking time to review it," said Clark of whether many have commented so far. "We encourage people to stay involved and to review it."
Hundreds attended public meetings about the drafting of the document last year, many concerned that the land use regulations were depriving them of their property rights. The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee issued a resolution opposed to the document.
Members of the central committee could not be reached on Wednesday about the draft.
Messenger lauded that details in the ULUC draft would make development easier.
The draft allows county staff to approve projects that currently have to go through a public hearing, he said.
"The rules are clear enough, the public hearing wouldn't be necessary," Messenger said.
Under the draft, projects that do go to hearing would be decided by the hearing examiner, instead of the commissioners.
Currently, the examiner holds a hearing and makes a recommendation to the commissioners, who hold a second hearing and make a decision.
"The extra step of a month or so of waiting for the county commissioners to take it up is avoided," Messenger said of the draft proposal.
Applicants could still appeal to the commissioners, he added.
The draft code would also set new standards for where some projects can be approved.
For example, current ordinances allow a race track to be approved as a special use in a rural zone.
Under the draft ULUC, Messenger said, a race track could only be approved in a commercial or industrial zone.
"You wouldn't be building race tracks all over the county," he said. "If your property is good property for a race track and not zoned commercial, then you could include a rezone as part of the application process."
The point is to "make more sense about what goes where," he said.
The draft code also expands the number of neighbors to be given notice of proposed projects. The ULUC draft calls for noticing at least 20 parcels around the project site, compared to the current standard of neighbors only within 300 feet.
"In rural areas, 300 feet of notice doesn't get you past the abutting property," Messenger said, pointing out that many neighbors are left uninformed.
The draft also includes a "sliding scale of density and open space," Messenger said. New districts called Established Neighborhoods would protect existing homes from nonconformity status.
Messenger noted that the commissioners will have the final word on what the ULUC contains.
"We commend the county for undertaking this monumental effort, and thank all the participants for keeping up along the way," Messenger said.