Scheduled hearing raises legal concerns

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

The Bonner County Planning Commission hasn’t yet made a decision on proposed changes to land use appeals. But the Bonner County Board of Commissioners may be taking matters into its own hands.

Last week, commissioners announced a public hearing to consider the matter for themselves. The decision is prompting blow-back from Planning Commission members and local residents, who feel the hearing is a breach of county procedure.

In December and January meetings, Planning Commission members examined proposed changes to the appeals process for its land use decisions. Under the current two-step process, the Board of Commissioners must first determine whether or not planning officials issued a flawed decision. Planning appeals must meet one of five requirements to warrant consideration, and appellants must pay a fee. The limitations are meant to discourage spurious appeals.

Proposed changes include eliminating the two-step process, the qualification for appeal and the fee. The case would go straight to the commissioners for de novo deliberation, meaning the proceedings would start fresh. The upshot is that testimony given during a Planning Commission meeting need not be considered in the appeals process.

Planning commissioners took issue with a number of the proposed changes and remanded the matter back to staff, delaying a final recommendation. When commissioners scheduled a public hearing of their own on the issue last week, Planning Commission members were surprised. According to Bonner County code, the Board of Commissioners must have a recommendation from the Planning Commission before scheduling a meeting to consider the matter themselves.

“We believe that the board’s scheduled hearing … is contrary to both Idaho and Bonner County codes and should not be held at this time,” Bonner County Planning Commission Chairman Steve Temple said in a letter to the commissioners.

“We recognize your right to disagree with the recommendations originating from our commission,” Temple continued. “We merely request respect for the structure of the planning and zoning process as set forth in Idaho law and Bonner County ordinances.”

Members of the public have also weighed in, including Susan Drumheller of the Idaho Conservation League. She and her colleagues are concerned about the possible environmental implications of a change to the appeals process. Drumheller filed a letter requesting that the meeting be canceled until the Planning Commission has made a final recommendation on the amendments.

“We are concerned that the current proposed change is not only contrary to the best interest of the county and its citizens, but that it is being done in violation of the county’s own legal procedures,” Drumheller wrote.

Originally scheduled for Feb. 16, the Board of Commissioners meeting has since been rescheduled because no meeting time was published. It will now take place Friday, Feb. 26 at 10 a.m. at the Bonner County Administration Building.

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