Study finds land use agreements, division

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

A newly released report finds both disagreements and common ground among Bonner County property owners when it comes to land use issues.

Conducted by the University of Utah’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Program and paid for with $12,000 in university grant funds, the survey is intended to establish common ground in dialogue over land use policies. The project was commissioned by Project 7B, an organization aiming to drive discussion over land use policy, and completed with cooperation from the cities of Dover, Priest River and Sandpoint, as well as the Selkirk Realtors Association and the Kinnickinnick Native Plant Society.

A 26-page report based on interviews with 30 individuals of diverse backgrounds, political leanings and professions, the assessment goes into extreme detail on preferences over regulation levels and county protections. According to Molly O’Reilly of Project 7B, the survey will be a valuable tool in moving conversations forward.

“We feel that the Situation Assessment shows a lot of areas of agreement on which to potentially find our way forward in Bonner County,” O’Reilly said in an email.

The assessment finds several overriding themes in landowners’ valued Bonner County traits. The small community nature of the region was widely praised, and interviewees want to see Bonner County kept affordable for all income levels and age groups. They emphasized the need to develop a thriving economy while maintaining Bonner County’s rural nature and lack of urban sprawl. Environmental factors like water quality and green spaces were also widely valued.

“Interviewees commonly said they would like to see development happen in such a way as to: avoid sprawl; leverage existing services, such as water and sewer systems; and avoid unnecessarily increasing the financial burden on local government and tax payers,” the assessment states.

Interviewees also brought several concerns to the table, including perceptions that the Bonner County Planning Department has been diminished by last year’s shake-ups to department staff and procedures. Some worried that the influence of potentially feckless planning would create a “buyer beware” situation for prospective property owners. They also feared the influence of unsustainable growth and the caustic influence of divisive politics, the assessment states.

The assessment also touched on key disagreements that could make consensus-building difficult. Interviewees said there are fundamental disagreements among county residents over property rights, freedom and personal responsibility. Locals also have very different ideas about promoting and managing growth and economic development, as well as governmental fiscal responsibility. The influence of powerful political ideologies has also made conversation difficult.

“A number of interviewees said there is a faction of very conservative and very pro-private property and anti-regulation folks residing in Bonner County, and that more people with this ideological leaning are moving into the area,” the report states. “They felt this group tends to be very politically active and divisive, and expressed concern that the growing presence of this contingent is causing additional tension in Bonner County.”

Sure enough, far-right conservatives may be taking an interest in Project 7B, with Idaho Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, serving as a galvanizing influence. In an email to supporters, Scott urged supporters to attend a Project 7B presentation at a Dec. 12 Clark Fork City Council meeting, saying the group has “a potentially strong socialist, liberal and environmental agenda.”

“According to a current county commissioner, this group has also had conflict with Bonner County planning and zoning’s attempts to reduce regulations for property owners,” Scott wrote in the email.

To read the entire report, visit www.project7b.org

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