There has been much news about the recent changes to the Bonner County Land Use code and in the county Planning Department. I am often asked “what happened and why should I care?” Good questions.
What happened? The county commissioners recently changed the land use code in two ways. The first was to remove the Planning Commission from any future amendments to the land use code. The second was to streamline the process for appealing Planning Commission decisions. Both were done to make it easier and faster to change the code and appeal decisions. Noble goals.
Why does it matter to you? At first glance, removing the Planning Commission from future code changes doesn’t seem like much. After all, they are just seven volunteers trying to help make the code better. Because they are thorough, they sometimes take longer to make a recommendation than the commissioners would like, and sometimes they arrive at recommendations not welcomed by the county commissioners.
You should care because the Planning Commission held well publicized evening public hearings so you could comment on proposed changes to the codes. Those comments and testimony had a real impact on proposed changes. Removing the Planning Commission from the process going forward, you have lost an important opportunity to be heard. Now, you’re only chance to comment is at the Commissioners regular business meeting, held on Tuesday mornings, with just two days notice of the agenda. No details provided. If you can’t get off work to attend, too bad.
The result of this change is loss of transparency and the opportunity to comment on proposed changes. The public’s voice, your voice, is lost. You won’t even know what the proposed change is unless you attend the Tuesday morning meeting, leaving you no chance to consider the change or prepare comments. Opportunities for increased cronyism abound, as well as the probability of bad code that hasn’t been properly vetted through public comment and involvement. Expect bad code to proliferate. When it comes to local code changes, your voice has been silenced.
As for streamlining the appeals process for Planning Commission decisions, it matters to you not so much because of the streamlining itself, but rather that many land use decisions will now be made by two commissioners in the appeal hearing. Anything you want to do with your property, no matter how objectionable to your neighbors, will be possible by convincing just 2 commissioners it’s OK. This is moving from Rule of Law, to Rule of Man.
My wife and I lived outside the US for 12 years, most of them in third world countries. We have seen first hand what poor zoning and Rule of Man looks like. No one I’ve met here wants to live like that. Some regulation and restraint is needed to reduce lawsuits between neighbors, have predictability in what we can do where and keep Bonner County beautiful. The quiet enjoyment of our property gets harder when our neighbors have too much freedom for uses we find objectionable. And when your neighbor is allowed objectionable uses, your property value goes down. Who wants that?
Somewhere between the extremes of complete freedom with no regulations and no freedom due to total regulation lies where we all want to live. The public deserves to be allowed to help find that balance.
Helping our elected officials find the right balance between property rights and property values as well as between freedom and regulation is important. They need your input. But since they’ve removed a very valuable opportunity for you to be heard, I encourage you to get informed and involved in the upcoming primary election on May 17. Learn the candidates positions on these issues, and vote based on the kind of Bonner County you want to live in.