By Cameron Rasmusson
The battle of wills between county commissioners and planning officials is heating up again with the resignation of Bonner County Planning Commission Chairman Steve Temple.
Temple resigned Thursday over a disagreement with the Bonner County Board of Commissioners about an upcoming public hearing on land use appeals. Planning Commission members say the hearing is illegal until they’ve issued a recommendation to county commissioners. In response, Bonner County Deputy Attorney William Wilson sent a letter claiming it was the commission that was acting illegally.
“We are officials appointed by you,” Temple told county commissioners in his letter of resignation. “If you’re unhappy with our behavior, revoke the appointment. But please don’t have your attorney send a letter you don’t have the courage to sign.”
The disagreement centers on proposed changes to land use appeals procedure, which are designed to accelerate and simplify the process for county property owners. But planning commissioners worry it could also flood county commissioners with appeals requests, produce ill-conceived land use decisions and leave the county vulnerable to lawsuits.
On Jan. 21, Planning Commission members asked staff to address those concerns before they offered a recommendation to county commissioners. Weeks later, county commissioners scheduled their own hearing on the proposed changes, which prompted the Planning Commission to send a letter objecting to the meeting. They cited a section of county code stating that commissioners can’t schedule a hearing until “recommendations have been received from the planning and zoning commission.”
“We recognize your right to disagree with the recommendations originating from our commission,” Temple wrote in the Feb. 4 letter. “We merely request respect for the structure of the planning and zoning process as set forth in Idaho law and Bonner County ordinances.”
Wilson fired back in a Feb. 12 letter, saying that by remanding the measure to staff, Planning Commission members were shirking their responsibility to issue a recommendation. He also said the county code concerning Planning Commission recommendations goes beyond the scope of the Local Land Use Planning Act, which requires a commission recommendation only for comprehensive plan or zoning district amendments.
“As you know, I attended the [Jan. 21 hearing],” Wilson wrote. “I heard the comments made and saw the non-verbal communication between the Commission and members of the public. Based on that experience, I would be naive in the extreme to think the Commission will ever issue a recommendation on this issue.”
Wilson then hinted that county commissioners may place a time limit on Planning Commission recommendations in the coming weeks, a measure Ada County has already enacted.
“Should that be the case, [county commissioners] will not seek review by the Commission prior to adoption,” Wilson wrote.
In his letter of resignation, Temple bristled at the accusations of illegality, saying Wilson based them on assumptions of the commission’s future actions.
“I’ve worked with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of attorneys in my career, but this is the first I’ve encountered who claimed to be clairvoyant,” Temple wrote.
Temple is far from the first Bonner County Planning Department casualty. In recent months, county commissioners upended the department’s leadership, firing both county planner Dan Carlson and planning director Clare Marley. The county is now seeking a new planning director accustomed to working under small government and limited regulations.
“…The havoc you’ve wreaked in the planning department and code changes you intend to make lead me to conclude the P&Z Commission is unnecessary,” Temple wrote in his resignation letter. “I no longer wish to volunteer my time and energy to an organization that doesn’t want them and I no longer respect.”