Land use code red

County huddles, reconsiders strategy

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COEUR d'ALENE - Kootenai County officials went back to the drawing board Tuesday after failing in their first attempt to hold planning commission hearings on the controversial Unified Land Use Code proposal Monday evening.

"The meeting didn't go exactly as planned," Community Development Director Scott Clark told the board of county commissioners. "We had a big crowd, bigger than expected. It was a pretty busy place."

Coeur d'Alene Fire personnel interrupted the hearing Monday night to inform the county planning commission that it was over capacity in its meeting room and said that many of the attendees would have to leave.

Planning Commission Chairman Wes Hanson opted to adjourn and continue the Monday hearing "to a date uncertain" rather than asking half the attendees to leave. There will be no more hearings this week.

On Tuesday, Hanson and fellow Planning Commissioner Colin Coles joined Clark, the county commissioners, and ULUC Consultant Bret Keast to regroup.

Pat Braden, the county's civil attorney, told the commissioners that county ordinances require at least 28 days notice before the hearings can resume.

Clark said he began researching venues first thing Tuesday morning, but it may take some time to find a large enough facility with available dates.

"We really don't need more time for reviewing documents," said County Commissioner Dan Green.

However, the motion that was passed by the commission did extend the hearing and the deadline for the comment period, Clark said.

Hanson and Coles explained to the commissioners that they would like to hold a special planning commission meeting early next week to discuss next steps and attempt to set dates.

"We want to take an ownership stake in this process," Hanson said. "Rather than receive a bunch of information and having to make that work, we want some input on setting the schedule to make sure our schedules are considered."

The group discussed several locations and decided to find room for 400 to 500 people with a good sound system.

Then they discussed what has gone wrong with the process.

Hanson explained to the commissioners that the few comments that were made dealt with specifics and the tone of the commentors was civil, but frustrated.

"They were befuddled by the complexity of it," Hanson said.

Commissioner Jai Nelson said people are befuddled by the current code as well. She said the planning commission may be able to simplify it further, but there is always going to be some level of complexity to the document.

"I am sure we can make headway there, but we'll never make it simple enough for everyone," Nelson said. "I think the real problem is public education."

Nelson said ideology is driving most of the angst with the ULUC, and the commission needs to find a way to communicate with them.

Keast, the consultant, said he attempted to do just that during the Monday hearing, but the audience wasn't receptive.

"I thought that would be a good opportunity to try and explain the positives, but there wasn't the patience for that," Keast said. "I suggest at the next hearing we go right into the comments."

He said most of the comments he sees right now are fairly easy to resolve, and that maybe the county should start red-lining the document to show its detractors that they are really listening.

"The feeling is mistrust, and that their comments aren't being looked at," he said.

Coles and Hanson said it might be a good idea to do a comparison of the old code and the new code with an explanation of why the code needs to be changed.

Keast said it might be a good idea to make some changes to the ULUC as well, and to show people what they can do under the new code versus what they can't do under the old code.

The group discussed a variety of ways to get their message out before the hearings reconvene, and how they will approach the format of the hearings based on their experience Monday.

"From this process it's obvious we aren't going to have a Kumbaya moment," Commissioner Todd Tondee said. "I don't think we will be able to educate all of them. Some of them don't want to be educated."

The group adjourned the Tuesday meeting after agreeing to continue discussions on how to handle comments, while setting up a facility and time to resume the hearing.

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