The Kootenai County commissioners voted unanimously after a public hearing on Thursday to approve Silverwood Theme Park's request to rezone more than 400 acres in the park from rural to commercial.
The commissioners agreed the rezone is necessary for the acreage, most in a triangular shaped area beside the train ride and water park, to conform with the largely commercial zoning across the rest of the theme park.
"I'm not sure how we got to some of the uses, but it is there," said Commissioner Dan Green of the mismatched zoning in the midst of the park. "I'm not a proponent of just because something's there, we condone it."
Commissioner Todd Tondee supported how the rezone would allow Silverwood to eventually pursue more attractions or other projects on the roughly 413 acres, if needed.
"Silverwood has been an economic driver for our area," Tondee said. "To allow them to grow and continue is beneficial for all the citizens of Kootenai County."
Theme park spokeswoman Nancy DiGiammarco said the company was pleased with the commissioners' decision.
She stated to the elected officials before the vote that the company had only recently reviewed its zoning and discovered there was a mix of rural and commercial parcels.
The company pursued a rezone in anticipation of new county laws that will require more consistent zoning, she said, and to be prepared if commercial uses are desired on those parcels down the road.
"We realize we need to bring all these parcels in common zoning," DiGiammarco said.
Steve Syrcle of Tri-State Consulting Engineers, representing Silverwood, noted that a roughly 15-acre strip of agriculture/suburban in the same area would not change zoning.
The strip contains residences for the family of Silverwood owner Gary Norton.
"If Gary ever chose to sell the park, he'd retain those houses for his family," Syrcle explained.
Tondee said he had some hesitation about allowing the strip to remain a different zone than the rest of the park, but he added that he understood Norton's reasoning.
He called it "unique" that the owner lives on site.
"A lot of people say, 'Would you want to live in this?' And yes he does," Tondee said. "It's good to see he's in there, dealing with all of the noise and all the things that come with that commercial use."
Although three citizens had submitted letters in opposition to the rezone, no one testified against the proposal at the hearing.
Syrcle emphasized that the theme park would have to pursue a special notice permit to add more attractions.
The commissioners also approved rezoning 95 acres of land adjacent to the theme park to commercial last year, with attractions expected to expand there.
DiGiammarco noted on Wednesday that the theme park attracted 659,000 guests last year, and that the park had a $79.5 million impact in Kootenai County in 2011.
She noted that Silverwood's opening day is May 5.
"Of course we're very happy," she said of the commissioners' decision on Thursday.