A pair of hearings at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting brought calls demanding transparency in Coeur d’Alene, sparking public comments that challenged how land deals are developed.
The much-anticipated hearing over a proposed land swap between the city and the charity St. Vincent de Paul drew encouraging praise and contentious debates. The proposed deal would deed the two properties — 1516 and 1620 East Sherman, both owned by St. Vincent de Paul — to the city of Coeur d’Alene in exchange for two properties on East Homestead Avenue and roughly $300,000 in cash. The purchase presentation drew ire from Council Member Dan Gookin, sparked concern from local citizens and encouraged the city to schedule the public hearing.
“I’ve lived in Coeur d’Alene for seven years,” Kevan McCrummen testified. “… I have seen, heard and agree with the argument that [East] Sherman Avenue is in dire need of visual and economic development.”
Paul and Christine Fortier agreed. “These efforts will promote community engagement and generate positive activity in the East Sherman community and surrounding areas,” they wrote in letters entered into public record before the hearing, “which will further enhance the Master Plan goals in the revitalization efforts.”
Gookin used the land swap as an opportunity to voice his concern about a lack of accountability in the process, repeating his May 7 calls for a comprehensive East Sherman master plan to guide the city’s actions.
The land swap with St. Vincent’s passed 5-1, with Gookin the lone dissent.
About 60 citizens showed up for the City Council meeting, 38 of whom stayed for the second and final public hearing, an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of a special use permit allowing for a five-storey, R-34 excemption on six parcels of property on and around Government Way, Mill Street and Davidson.
Mayor Steve Widmyer recused himself from the proceedings because he and his wife are part owners of the property, and his son, Benjamin, is the developer.
The appeal — brought by Terry Godbout — a local resident who administers the Facebook page We The People that proclaims transparency in government — contended that the request did not meet criteria to warrant a special use permit, including the omission of signatures by all owners of the properties in question.
This kicked off a contentious hearing that lasted well past 10:30 p.m., where David Lyons of We The People of Coeur d’Alene testified to the City Council that the Widmyer family’s role in the approval process was “devious and deceptive.”
Upon hearing the public testimony, Mayor Widmyer said Lyons’ accusations were “not worthy of a comment.”
Ultimately, the council affirmed the Planning Department’s decision to grant the special use permit 5-1, with Gookin again the lone vote of dissent. His primary concern, he said, was how a five-story project would impact the neighborhood.
“If this project moves forward,” he warned, “it will destroy that neighborhood. Congratulations.”