Echoes of development

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A prolonged standoff between the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners and Echo Bay Holdings, LLC finally came to an end Thursday night.

The Board voted 2-1, with Commissioner Bill Brooks dissenting, to give the developer approval for a major subdivision off scenic Highway 97 near Echo Bay.

The subdivision, Lake Club Estates, will consist of 25 residential lots and 7 open space tracts on almost 18 acres on the east side of Highway 97. Proposed access is across from South Panorama View Drive.

In January of 2019, the Kootenai County hearing examiner recommended the application to subdivide be approved with 18 conditions. Those conditions will still apply, requiring the developer to follow all state agency and county regulations for development at that site.

In April, the Board denied the initial application 2-1, with Commissioner Leslie Duncan dissenting. The board found the proposed subdivision incompatible with surrounding land uses. They also found it did not adequately address site constraints and that it might create negative environmental impacts.

Jillian Caires, attorney at law on behalf of Echo Bay Holdings, LLC, appealed the decision and sought reconsideration of the application for the major subdivision.

In August the board voted to remand the application back to the county’s community development department to work with the applicant to conduct an independent traffic study. Echo Bay Holdings, LLC hired Whipple Consulting Engineers to complete a traffic impact analysis.

“The reality of highway traffic is that roads are intended to be used to provide land access,” Todd Whipple, president of Whipple Consulting Engineers, said.

Whipple found, through standard analysis, that the two-lane highway has the capacity to handle increased traffic from the proposed 25 households, including appropriate site distance for the proposed site access road.

The county has received 23 comments, all in opposition of the development, since the last public hearing, the majority of which state concern with the deteriorating conditions of Highway 97.

“Maintenance elements, while visible to the public, are a function beyond the developer, beyond the county,” Whipple said.

In addition to highway conditions, public concern centered around traffic safety on the narrow road and pedestrian safety accessing the lake.

Whipple encouraged recommendation for pedestrian signage and striping to alert drivers to increased pedestrian presence.

Further public concern included potential septic system leakage to a nearby stream, the board’s lack of consideration to make decisions reflective of appropriate lake management practices, ecological impacts, and change to the rural character of the area.

Carlene Cada, a Harrison resident, expressed concern for the condition of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Cada implored the commissioners to consider the potential pollution to the lake from septic systems and development adding phosphorus to the lake. She cited that the Echo Bay wetlands are a key component of filtering water during runoff season and increased development could hamper the efficacy of that system.

“The board needs to become stewards of Lake Coeur d’Alene,” Cada said. “Hopefully the board will act in the best interests of the entire community and not just one special interest.”

According to the board, that responsibility falls, in large part, on the Panhandle Health District’s standards.

“Each and every condition [for the application] comes from agency and code requirements,” Vlad Finkel, Kootenai County community development planner, said.

The 18 conditions of the approval address road access, Panhandle Health District requirements, an agreement with the neighboring Boy Scouts of America camp property, and fire concerns.

“Growth is painful, I get it,” Duncan said. “If all the agencies are of the opinion that this is an appropriate project, I don’t find any basis to deny the project.”

Deborah Stone, a Harrison resident, said the commissioners can’t “pass the buck” to the Idaho Transportation Department to take care of the highway.

“Any project like this, it’s a matter of totality of the project,” Brooks said. “97 is out of the control of the developer, but it’s a horrible road. It’s a dangerous road.”

Commissioner Chris Fillios proposed that if the board denied the application solely on the grounds of the condition of Highway 97, they would have to impose a moratorium on development along the entire county length of the highway.

“Despite the fact that I initially opposed this, I reluctantly have to side with Commissioner Duncan,” Fillios said, giving the final vote and approval of the subdivision.

Echo Bay Holdings, LLC also owns 68 acres along the lake across the highway, but did not include potential additional subdivision phases or marina construction in its application.

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