Judge rules Dalton subdivision is illegal

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DALTON GARDENS — A subdivision approved by the City Council that resulted in a lawsuit and spurred a recall election has been deemed illegal by a district court judge.

First District Judge Lansing Haynes in a ruling filed this week said the four-lot Streeter subdivision on the 7000 block of 16th Street, which was approved through an agreement between council members and the landowners, defied city code and was therefore illegal.

Jeffery Crandall, who was instrumental in stopping the subdivision, said Tuesday he was pleased with Haynes’s decision.

“This has been a long, hard-fought battle to get the city to realize that the development proposed by the Streeters violated well-established city ordinances and state laws and the city lacked the authority to permit it,” Crandall said.

In a 23-page opinion filed Monday, Haynes meticulously outlined the case beginning in 1971, when the Dalton City Council enacted an ordinance restricting land use in the city.

Ordinance 34 was meant to preserve Dalton Gardens as a rural community by providing “adequate light and air, to prevent the overcrowding of land, and to avoid undue concentration of population,” according to the ordinance. It prohibited subdivisions, and required building to be limited to lots with street frontage.

But the city became entangled in a lawsuit in 2017 when the Streeters claimed the right to build on their property. They sued the city for prohibiting a five-lot subdivision in a horse pasture.

In an effort to appease the Streeters, the city issued non-conforming use permits to the owners, allowing the family to build on four unplatted lots, including two without public road frontage.

By the time it cut the deal, the city had already spent $30,000 of taxpayer money on litigation.

When neighbors including Crandall learned of the agreement, they formed a group called Save Dalton Gardens and sued the city for breaking its own rules.

The non-conforming use permits were illegal because the circumstances that allow for the permits did not exist, the group argued. The subdivision was illegal on many fronts, according to Save Dalton.

“The city does not have the authority to grant nonconforming use certificates for lots lacking public street frontage, but only for lots that are too narrow, too shallow, or smaller than 1 acre,” said Crandall, an attorney and founding member of Save Dalton.

But the accusation that the City Council had made a backroom deal to appease one party caused consternation in the community of 2,500 that is sandwiched between Coeur d’Alene and Hayden at the foot of Canfield Mountain.

Save Dalton’s efforts resulted in the recall of then-Mayor Steve Roberge, who had served almost two decades on the council, and council members Joe Myers and Denise Lundy.

“They knew it was wrong,” Dalton resident Dick Flugel said. “It would have set a precedent in the city.”

Two remaining council members including Jamie Smith and Scott Jordan were not re-elected earlier this month.

In his decision, Haynes said the subdivision approved by the city did not create legal lots. Haynes said the city’s issuing of the permits was improper and not within its legal authority and therefore the newly formed lots were not legal.

“We’re very grateful Judge Haynes invested the time and effort to fully review the facts and controlling law in the process of making this critical ruling for the citizens of Dalton Gardens,” Crandall said.

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