Post Falls: Its vision is blurred

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Recent comments by the Post Falls Community Development director, published in the July 31 Press, reveal much of what’s wrong with the leadership of this city. He said the hope is to purchase the Idaho Veneer and Plummer Forest Products properties “when the railroad no longer needs them.” That’s like saying UPS or FedEx will cancel their service in Post Falls when they “no longer need” the thousands of people here who rely on those companies to ship and deliver their parcels. True, BNSF would no longer be in Post Falls were it not for those two mills, but those mills need the railroad, not the other way around.

If Post Falls was serious about its urban renewal, about attracting new businesses and jobs here, it would look for ways to either support PFP and IV, or encourage new companies to move in and transform those properties into rail-served businesses that will thrive. Instead, the city’s leaders seem eager to dig an early grave for PFP and IV, ending the jobs that exist there now, and diminishing the number of jobs and level of pay those sites could offer in the future.

At the top of the same Press story, the Post Falls Urban Renewal Agency executive director said, “The primary reasons for this new [urban renewal] district would be to assist with infrastructure to support and attract business in the city center area …” She described that infrastructure as things like sidewalks, street work and landscaping, but failed to recognize the rail line (which is already built and paid for) as a vital element of the city’s infrastructure. Such rail lines have been magnets for new companies, jobs and tax revenue elsewhere in our region.

When an open house on future growth concepts was held at City Hall a few years ago, one of the planning officials told my wife and I that “greenfield” housing construction was the easiest form of development the city can grant approvals for. No kidding. In 2010, the City Council approved annexation of 108 acres of fertile farmland at Spokane Street and Prairie Avenue, rezoned it from its ranch/rural status, robbed nearby residents of the country lifestyle they had long enjoyed and invested in, and created a sprawl of jam-packed homes and three-story apartments that now look like a small city dropped onto the Rathdrum Prairie. One of many such developments Post Falls has allowed before local streets, intersections and rail crossings were ready to handle the surge in new traffic.

At the Aug. 6 Post Falls City Council meeting, (where, by the way, they approved themselves a raise), one council member expressed concern about conflict between boaters and a proposed boardwalk at Black Bay Park. She said she was “passionate” about that area. Me and my neighbors are passionate about things in Post Falls too. Things like jobs growth, so that not everyone who lives here is forced to drive east or west to earn a real living. And things like snowplowing. Twenty years ago, city plows were able to clear most of the residential streets within hours of any snowstorm. The past several years, most of our neighborhoods have suffered through weeks of accumulated snow and ice, untouched by plows, which made it dangerous or impossible for some residents to leave their driveways. All because this city has approved one giant housing development after another with no regard for the strain on city services, schools, etc.

To be fair, the improvements made to Spokane Street south of I-90 and the ongoing revamp of our parks are welcome changes. But those are small glimpses in the big picture. Post Falls has become so focused on the cash trough of endless residential sprawl that it’s lost sight of its higher responsibility to the citizens who live here and pay taxes and city fees now. Unfortunately, the majority of us are unaware or silent on these issues because we’re either getting home after a long day of work, or clocking in for a night job, or sitting down at the dinner table during the evening hours when, over at City Hall, decisions are being made that will deeply impact us all.

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Bruce Kelly has lived and worked in Post Falls since 1996.

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