“The county planners want to plan our lives and control our property, but they can’t even plan a meeting,” an angry property owner commented at the Kootenai County Planning Commission meeting at the Kootenai County Court House in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Monday evening, June 17. The expressions of anger and exasperation grew as the overflow crowd of nearly 300 tried to pack into a 150-capacity room to comment on the proposed new Unified Land Use Code, a comprehensive rewrite (and vast expansion of) the county’s existing land use regulations, which were already the source of much discontent.
The meeting was the first of a planned four-meeting series that was scheduled to run each evening from June 17-20, with each night covering several chapters of the new 500-page ULUC Draft. Sparks began flying (metaphorically) from the start. The Coeur d’Alene Fire Department came to the rescue a little over an hour into the volatile meeting, informing the Commission that the gathering was over capacity and in violation of the fire code. This spared county officials from more blistering comments from area residents. It also gave Kootenai County residents a reprieve, as Wes Hanson, the planning commission chairman, announced that the meeting would be adjourned and continued in a new series of meetings scheduled at a larger venue.
Much of the concern and outrage expressed at the commission meeting by property owners stems from the fact that the new “comprehensive plan,” the ULUC, is more than double the page count of the existing code, and, as might be expected from that expansion, contains many more regulations, prohibitions, restrictions, mitigations, impact fees, permit requirements, and much more. Another common complaint, both from property owners and professionals who regularly deal with these matters, such as realtors, appraisers, consultants, and attorneys, is that the ULUC is vague and confusing, with many terms undefined or ill-defined, opening the door for county administrators, inspectors, and regulators to cite and fine property owners for many normal activities and uses now permitted under the current code. Still another point of contention is that many (if not most) property owners in the rural areas most affected by the new plan did not even know about the revision and the extent of the changes and the impact it would have until they were presented with a near fait accompli very recently.
Planning commission chairman Wes Hanson opened the Monday meeting by explaining the rules for taking comments from property owners that had signed up to speak, each for three minutes. Grumbles and frustrated comments from the crowd had already begun. Hanson then turned the meeting over to Bret Keast, president and owner of Kendig Keast Collaborative, the Colorado-based company that wrote the new code. Keast began, using a slide presentation, to explain chapters 1-3 of the new ULUC. He didn’t get very far before the grumbles turned into shouts: “You’re wasting our time”; “He’s taking up all our time”; “We didn’t come here for this”; “When does the public get to comment?”
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