The closer Kootenai County moves toward adopting a new Unified Land Use Code, the greater the tempest blows against it.
From the little guy who owns a few acres of prairieland to political and business juggernaut Avista Corp., the protest has swelled to a deafening level. All the many public meetings and all of the modifications made along the way have not assuaged the widespread fear and anger that many hold against the county. If county officials had any doubt about the size of or vehemence behind resistance to their new code, it was clarified recently when several hundred impassioned citizens overflowed the meeting room, forcing postponement of a handful of scheduled meetings.
That delay buys county officials some time to figure out their next steps. We recommend that part of the strategy focuses on effectively communicating with constituents, keeping in mind that communication is supposed to work both ways.
There are three constituent groups, and each deserves to be dealt with respectfully but separately.
The first group is individual, independent property owners who are mystified by this massive and complicated set of rules. These people have a genuine desire to understand; it's incumbent on the county to provide a clear road map of the code.
The second group includes ideologues whose conspiracy theories have wrapped their tentacles around this issue. They are taxpaying citizens of the county, so they have every right to be heard and their suggestions to be taken seriously, but that's the key. To these folks and their followers, the code is yet another manifestation of insidious governmental intrusion and control. Reasons for distrust vary, but a very loud few are trying to link the Kootenai County land use code to the United Nations' Agenda 21 - a sustainable development plan that many conscientious and scientifically grounded entities around the world have embraced. To these few critics, the county will never generate an acceptable set of rules, so officials would be wise to focus on the third group.
This group includes experts throughout the community, including longtime real estate, planning, legal and business professionals who are frustrated because the county's consultant has failed to weave their concerns into the tapestry of the code. There is no confusion over what the code is supposed to do. This group understands that it is supposed to provide predictability for developers and an enforcement instrument for the county's comprehensive plan. Confusion comes from these learned professionals wondering why the county is unable or unwilling to incorporate their most important suggestions.
It might be too late to save this iteration of the ULUC, risking years of work and almost $400,000. For any chance at code salvation, the county must listen to the experts around them, and the code must then reflect their wisdom. Fail at that and the imperative is clear: Start over, no matter the cost.