By Ben Olson
Over 150 residents attended a meeting held by the Bonner County Planning Department at Northside School on Tuesday night. The meeting’s intent was to gather input from Selle Valley residents regarding land use and zoning that may be affected by a revisit to the Comprehensive Plan.
According to Gabby Betz, residents repeatedly raised concerns that neighboring properties are already being subdivided into 5- and 2.5-acre plots. She said residents were concerned that the valley was on its way to being overdeveloped and may lose its rural and agricultural feel.
“We’ve not made any decisions or talked at great length about what the area should look like,” said Bonner County Planning Director Milton Ollerton. “That’s why we went out to have the community meetings—to gather the vision of the area from the community.”
Landowner Cassie Tauber claimed the vast majority of landowners in Selle Valley were pushing to keep the zoning the same, with no changes or exceptions. She said changes could ultimately lead to the over-development of not only Selle Valley, but Bonner County as a whole.
“The reason that this particular subzone change is critical is that it could potentially affect the flavor of this town forever,” said Tauber. “I think we’re at a turning point at what happens in this community indefinitely. What you’re going to see across the valley is if we don’t protect it, it’ll be just like the Rathdrum prairie.”
Tauber claimed that, though subdivisions weren’t allowed under the current Comprehensive Plan, landowners who want to parcel out their properties were able to apply for—and have been granted—special exceptions to do so.
“We want no more exceptions,” she said. “You don’t get any more subdivision in the Selle Valley, period.”
Landowner Roy Hansen echoed Tauber’s concerns, adding that he was dismayed with the current system which states that if you have smaller acreage that buts up against your property, you can petition to divide them into smaller lots.
“What bothers me especially is that all the neighbors around our property argued against it, but planning and zoning still approved it,” said Hansen. “At what point do they stop? The reason they start doing these planning and zoning maps is not to find out what the people want, it’s because they’ve had a lot of interest from contractors and subdividers. They want to increase the tax-based revenue.”
Ollerton claimed he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting: “We took away from that meeting some of the ideas that they have for the area,” he said. “They said they don’t want to see anything change and we’re trying to wrap our minds around that. What does ‘no change’ really mean?”
Residents requested a zoning map would to help illustrate the issue better at a future meeting, which Ollerton agreed to. Residents also voiced concern that the meetings weren’t publicized well enough past word of mouth and small notices on the Bonner County website. They asked for more transparency and more outreach to the landowners.
Ollerton said that Selle Valley is one of four areas the planning department hopes to revisit with the comprehensive plan—Sagle, Priest River and Blanchard being the other three.
“We’re making positive progress,” said Tauber. “It does appear that there is still a lack of general trust [for the planning department], though … the key is to attend the meetings and stay vigilant on your comprehension of this issue. This will have a lifelong impact, a generational impact and an economic impact.”
A second meeting has been proposed for Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. at Northside School though this date has not been confirmed at press time.
Gabby Metz contributed reporting to this article.