How will the future of Coeur d’ Alene look?

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Beautiful Coeur d’ Alene. The lake, green scenery, and surrounding countryside make it exquisite. It’s no wonder CDA is cited as the 11th fastest growing metro area according to U.S. Census data for the Department of Labor. But it seems like the 2018 population of our city is multiplying more rapidly than those statistics. (Every day, I talk to people who have moved here from Colorado, California, Montana, Virginia, Oklahoma, Washington, Florida and other states.) Several realtors have told me the population of CDA and surrounding areas could possibly increase by 5,000 soon. Whether, you are recent resident or a native Idahoan, as Bob Dylan succinctly wrote, “The times, they are a changing.” In the “Gem State” of Idaho, CDA is shining brightly. People are finding a pathway to a new home here. I am one of those people. One, among countless people, who came to CDA to buy a home in a beautiful environment and community.

Living in two other gorgeous areas of our country enabled me to recognize CDA as the prized treasure it is. My perspective about those experiences has influenced my feelings about CDA. And I get it that people really don’t care what anyone else has to say about where they live. One of my new CDA friends told me, “I don’t give a flying fig about what you think of CDA.” Understandable. But reading about my viewpoint might be interesting. I believe everyone’s input on the growth and development of CDA is significant.

My family lived in Southwest Montana on a 30,000-acre cattle ranch.It was encompassed by three spectacular mountain ranges, sweeping into lush pastures with sparkling, crystal-blue creeks.Montana is a place so splendid, it is often called the, “Last Best Place.” Bill Gates, David Letterman, Supermodel Christy Turlington and other such folks stayed three miles from our house at a fishing lodge-- to fly-fish, take mountain horseback rides, and enjoy gourmet meals with perfect wine pairings. The cost for these vacations averages $7,000 a week.

During the 34 years we lived in Montana, the state progressively developed real estate projects and tourist related enterprises. Affluent buyers became the new majority. Marketing a lifestyle filled with rustic, luxury ambience and pristine, pure, natural beauty proved to be a successful concept for selling the “Big Sky Area.”

In another lifetime before Montana, I was an Advertising Director/Report for a newspaper in the Vail/Eagle area of Colorado. I worked a lot in Vail, which promotes itself as: “North America’s Premier International Ski Resort.” Nothing more needs to be said. But I will, anyway. The resort is surrounded by magnificent mountain views and 350,000 acres of National Forests. It’s a dazzling place to hike or enjoy the European styled shops and restaurants in the summer season. In the winter, the resort is gifted with 300 days of bright, torquoise-hued sunshine and has over 5,000 skiable acres. Vail is practically perfect.

My husband, a fourth-generation Colorado native, observed most of his Eagle/Vail hometown area turn into a vacation or second- home destination for some of the wealthy people in the world. No complaints. Realistically, who wouldn’t want to live and vacation in one of the most beautiful places ever? Taylor Swift, Ted Nugent, the Obamas, Olympic Gold Medalist, Mikaela Shiffrin, and other celebrities love Vail. (I got a picture of Clint Eastwood once, on the Vail Golf Course. That was a picturesque day in the Colorado mountains.)

But enough about all of that. My Point? I know how beautiful areas can attract new residents. Population growth will continue in Coeur d’ Alene. More and more “explorers” will discover it.

On the positive side, multiplied people now have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of Montana, Colorado and CDA. Tourism and desirable real estate properties also create a stronger local economy.New jobs, business opportunities and a higher tax revenue for schools, infrastructures (no one wants city streets like Spokane), and hospitals are available. As a six-year permanent resident of Coeur d’ Alene, I am not surprised that growth and development are happening so rapidly. (I am happy to live in a great subdivision, myself.)

CDA might not experience a skyrocketing cost of living like Montana and Colorado. Currently, there is a broad market range of housing available for both, affluent and median-level buyers. This is not true in Colorado and Montana. (My husband and I spent four months studying real estate costs in those two states before deciding to purchase our home in CDA.) For example, in Bozeman, Montana, the median (precisely in the middle range) price for a home is $420,000. And there is a very low inventory of those houses available. A Bozeman Chronicle Newspaper article in February, 2015 titled: “Priced out: Bozeman’s Housing Hits Young Professionals Hard,” explained how young professionals in Bozeman fear the extreme lack of available, affordable housing will force them to either, rent forever or move away from the hometown they love.

A headline of a March, 2018Denver Post Newspaper article stated: “The Average Price of a Single-family Home in Metro Denver. Colorado has Passed the Half-Million Dollar Mark.” The Post also reported that because over 13,000 people moved to Denver in 2017, median priced housing is extremely scarce.

In CDA there are two differences in the above statistics. First, local real estate data list the median price of a single-family home here as $350,000. Second, because of the many existing and planned subdivisions in the CDA area and in Hayden, Rathdrum and Post Falls, there is a tremendous inventory of middle-range housing now available in CDA. This is a very positive quality for our area.

So, one of the main reason CDA is growing rapidly is because of the comparative factor of abundant affordable housing for a median income market. The many subdivisions available in CDA and the surrounding areas are also a great asset to the local economy. Realtors, restaurants, retail businesses,contractors, building trade workers, and many other goods and service suppliers are experiencing a prosperous commerce.

But there are some important choices to be made. The proliferated growth of this amazing area is inevitable. A vision based upon wise planning is needed. What does that mean? Specifically, residents and developers have to balance the desirable setting and unique community of CDA, with its escalating expansion.

CDA Mayor Steve Widmyer explained in January 1, 2018 Press article, “Grappling with Growth, “that our city is a wonderful place to live and many people continue to discover that.” “A positive growing community is a good thing,” Widmyer said. “Maintaining and protecting the quality of life that we enjoy is what we must accomplish in 2018 and the years to come.” I agree. What good will be achieved if CDA has tremendous progress, but loses all of the distinctive aspects of community character and attraction that we love?

For example, I hope every effort will be made to preserve the impressive natural beauty of Coeur d’ Alene. Tucked between the Coeur d’ Alene Mountain Range and Lake Coeur d’ Alene (chosen by National Geographic as one of world’s most beautiful lakes), its surrounding environment is alluring. Emerald landscapes wrap around the city. City parks (such as McEuen Park, Riverstone Park, City Park, and Cherry Hill Park, and many more parks) provide outdoor fun. Also, many metro subdivisions, like “The Landings” where I live, have adjacent, nicely landscaped CDA City parks which numerous families enjoy.Hiking and biking trails (like the Centennial and Tubbs Hill trails or the 88-acre Cougar Bay Preserve) offer recreational adventures.You can watch soaring Eagles on scenic lake cruises. Or take your family to downtown activities for “Kids’ Day. There is something for everyone to enjoy. Don’t forget the amazing “Coeur d’ Alene Garden Tour,” one of my personal favorites.

Along with its natural beauty, I believe the urban ambiance of CDA should be preserved. The downtown area with its shops, restaurants, bright flower pots, library, and quaint adjacent neighborhoods are charming. In the summer, there are farmer’s markets, antique car and art shows; the amazing 4th of July Parade and famous Fireworks; and weekly music concerts. In the winter, there is a specular Christmas Lighting Ceremony with 1.5 million lights and more fireworks on the lake. A visiting friend declared CDA to be “a magical place.” I agree.

As expansion advances in CDA, checks and balances must remain in place with every citizen having the opportunity to be a part of the process. Is this really necessary? Yes, it is.

Some Idahoans don’t favor regulations that govern planned growth. I respect their feelings. They want to make their own decisions. An innate fear of uncontrolled bureaucratic mandates exists.

The recent debates in the Press confirm how much people disagree. There seems to be a controversy about everything: the pros and cons of building codes and building permits; the importance of the Kootenai County Community Development Dept.; how much the agenda of anti-regulation proponentswill impact the construction of residential housing; how much will taxes rise to pay for all of this; and still the discussion continues to intensify.

Yet, in my opinion, planning commissions, building regulations, codes, permits, and inspections are all necessary to ensure the safety and value of individual property owners. When it’s your home and your money, rules are a valuable requirement. All property regulations that govern construction and development should be implemented.Who wants a faulty roof to collapse from a heavy snowfall? (Currently, the “Op-Out” option on required building permits is only available for the unincorporated residential housing projects in Kootenai County. Nevertheless, the decision creates an unsafe and deficient construction precedent.)

My professional background includes: serving as the first Town Clerk for Avon, Colorado at Beaver Creek; working for the Department of Revenue in the Assessor’s Office as a Property Evaluation Specialist; and serving as the Director of Homeowner Services for a large subdivision.To paraphrase an insurance slogan, I know some things because I have been involved in quite a few property disputes.

Such as: an architectural review board telling a homeowner to paint his deck only sage green;a homeowner threatening to sue the planning commissioner because his neighbor won’t demolish a shabby shed; another homeowner suing the county commissioners because his house burned down from sublevel fuse boxes; homeowners unsuccessfully suing a developer who hid a contract clause which allowed him to have a permanent right-away through their land for fishing access on the river; and the list goes on. We need property rights, along with building regulations to protect homeowners’ property values. Also, for safety and property dominion.

However, a process of compromise through public input is always a smart decision.Presently, CDA officials are gathering local opinions regarding public land access for the “Atlas Waterfront Project.” Results from these public meetings with citizens and 45 other groups, repeatedly ask for more “green open space.” Are these requests for public beach access, pedestrian and bike paths, playground and picnic areas being authorized for the 47-acre former mill site along the Spokane River? This is the time for residents to attend the right meetings to insure their voices are heard. (Both Colorado and Montana have complicated river access laws and restrictions. It’s wiser to assure public access now; than litigate later.)

Similarly, as present and previously approved subdivisions begin construction in CDA, Hayden, Post Falls and Rathdrum concerned people need to attend city council, county commissioner, planning commission, and Community Development Departments meetings. Planned growth affects everything— new schools and road funding; traffic flow and safety; water, sewage and utilities; among other necessities. If you are concerned about any of these issues, now is the time to get involved in the governing process.

Everywhere, people tell me Coeur d’ Alene is growing too fast. “Too many people. Too much traffic. Homes are getting too expensive.” The same conversation happens at the doctor’s office, grocery store, church, work, with my neighbors, my beautician, in the Mall. Repeatedly, people discuss what can be done to slow down or stop this situation. My answer to that questions is: “Absolutely nothing.” Accelerated growth and its effects upon our lives is not going to stop.

As an official of the Department of Transportation recently pointed out in the Press: “That (traffic congestion) shouldn’t come as a surprise, as U.S. Census date shows Kootenai as the fastest growing

county in the fastest growing state in the nation.” CDA is right in the middle of all of this fast-paced progress in Idaho.

I do applaud the idealism and courage of CDA residents. A wise plan now is for us all to work together. Those who care, want to make the right decisions at this pivotal junction in time to protect the scenic magnificence and community of CDA. The best cooperative group should include: the developers who had the foresight to recognize the tremendous housing needs for the future population; government officials; old and new residents; realtors; contractors; conservationists; all other involved entities and parties or individuals.

Sometimes I think about the fact that Vail Resorts markets itself as: “An Experience of a Lifetime.” To me, Idaho offers “The Experiences of a Lifetime.”

Montana proclaims it’s: “The Last Best Place.” Its extraordinary beauty is there to capture while you still can. But I believe “Idaho Is the Only Last Best Place Left.”

I will always love Montana and Colorado; but this is where I want to live. We are all in this together. What can we do? What are we willing to do, in the present and future to protect the unique character and winsome attractiveness of our city and adjoining cities? That is the question I am asking myself. I hope you will think about this collective goal, as well.

As An Aside

By Tonie Koonce

Sometimes the best idea for the future is to hold onto the character and distinctive qualities of the past. What if more of the future construction in the CDA area focused on renovation? The city of Spokane is doing more restoration remodeling and the results are perfect for the preservation of irreplaceable historical landmarks. The number of historic buildings the city has wonderfully restored make an impressive list (check out the June, 25, 2017 article, “Downtown Spokane is Rich with Historic Buildings—Here are the Top Twelve & Runners-Up”.) The “Steam Plant,” a famous 1916 downtown building is one highlight from the list. This building supplied steam heat to 70 downtown businesses until it closed in 1986. Reopened in 1999 as a restaurant, it recently underwent a $4.4 million renovation and in 2018 became “The Steam Plant Kitchen + Brewery.” Reviews site it as a “must-see” historical industrial plant/elegant restaurant which has received the “National Preservation Honor Award.”

Coeur d’ Alene has widespread vintage properties or residences that could be restored with similar success. Austin’s “Tarrytown” and Portland’s “Hawthorne District” are quiet, scenic residential neighborhoods that have remodeled older homes with modern conveniences which are two good examples of what could happen in CDA. Winding through these neighborhoods of sophisticated retro homes are integrated urban open spaces. Each space is different with rose gardens, wild flower paths, community aquatic pools and other parks, along the charming tree/shrubbery lined streets. Walking through such “green environmental” neighborhoods with their uniquely, preserved established homes soothes the soul with peace and actually make you feel good.

Regarding other remarkable renovation achievements, the “Historic Davenport Hotel” in downtown Spokane is one of the most distinguished structures. I recently walked through its “Spanish Renaissance” designed lobby with other European inspired architectural designs. It was breathtaking and luxurious. The hotel was built in 1914, shut down in 1985 and almost. completely demolished. Then new owners spent $38-million to renovate it and reopened in 2002. What if it had been destroyed? What if we no longer had the Davenport Hotel.

I hope that Coeur d’ Alene will be able to broaden its historical landmark restorations. Like the appealing fields and pastures that once surrounded CDA, once somethings are gone, they can never be replaced. We will all be richer in our lives if we can somehow enjoy the extraordinary past vestiges that remain in our city and surrounding areas by implementing more renovation projects.

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