The Kootenai County commissioners voted 3-0 on Thursday to amend a site disturbance ordinance many have complained was convoluted and allowed for contradictory interpretations.
The officials agreed the amendment is only a temporary fix, to be refined sometime in the next two years as a consultant assists the county in rewriting all county development ordinances.
"Philosophically, I'm opposed to more amendments, but we're two years behind where I'd hoped we be," Commissioner Dan Green said of the rewriting process and implementing the new Comprehensive Plan. "There are situations where this ordinance makes violators or criminals out of people trying to improve water quality."
Commissioner Todd Tondee acknowledged that some have said the county should forget the amendment and let the consultant take care of all the ordinance's flaws down the road.
But there are too many individuals affected by its problems now, he said.
"Not doing anything, not amending it, is not an answer, in my opinion," Tondee said.
The site disturbance ordinance regulates landscaping and building activities in shoreline buffer zones, to limit nutrients that enter the water.
Thursday's amendment clarified language in the ordinance. It also added exceptions for use of mechanical equipment in buffer zones for projects like bank stabilization and erosion prevention and repair.
Shoreline property owners had complained that projects became expensive and complicated because mechanical tools were not allowed, Green noted.
"I know people were spending a lot of money to fix things," he said.
The commissioners agreed to strike a proposed third exception, which would have allowed for large-scale projects inside buffer zones, if the officials deemed the projects beneficial to the public.
If the county goes in that direction, said Commissioner Jai Nelson, details should be ironed out with the consultant's help later on.
"I think that's something the consultant will want to delve into and make much more specific, so it's not too subjective," Nelson said.
Green said it was too big a change for a short-term solution.
"If we're going to do Band-Aids, Band-Aids are small," he said. "Exemption three is surgery."
Commissioner Todd Tondee said the measure could help bring about county projects like public docks or a public marina, but agreed it was too much to tackle at this point.
"I understand that it's complicated," he said.
Terry Harris, executive director of Kootenai Environmental Alliance, said the commissioners did the right thing.
"It was a land ordinance that needed to be fixed, and they fixed it without any problems," he said.
He was relieved to see the third exception tossed out, he added. KEA had been worried it could allow a broad range of development in sensitive areas.
"It was a serious concern of ours," he said.
Lynn Morris, a lakeshore property owner in Coeur d'Alene, said she thought the amendment would help protect water quality.
"Our shoreline is very important, and I think it should be protected," Morris said.