By Soncirey Mitchell
At a public hearing Oct. 2, Bonner County commissioners approved development of the Providence subdivision, which encompasses 116 residential lots on approximately 40 acres east of Kootenai. Residents of Sandpoint and the neighboring Seven Sisters subdivision resisted the new development, citing concerns over wetlands and drainage, increased traffic and the alleged potential to overtax area water, sewer and school districts.
Per Bonner County’s land use regulations, Providence Road LLC submitted an application to the Army Corps of Engineers to determine whether or not the area’s wetlands fall under the Corps’ jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The recent Supreme Court Ruling Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency altered the scope of their jurisdiction over wetlands, making it unclear what approvals developers need from the Corps to commence construction. The Corps did not issue a statement by the Oct. 2 meeting.
Silt soils in the area have notoriously poor drainage, and public testimony alleged that the site currently functions as a repository for stormwater from the Seven Sisters subdivision.
“If that is the case, that is actually a violation of the approved stormwater management plan,” said Dan Tadic of HMH engineering, on behalf of Providence Road, LLC.
If those allegations are correct the subdivision will need to alter their drainage system to comply with existing code, regardless of the commissioners’ decision.
Tadic and project representative Mike Hammack testified that the city of Sandpoint’s water service and the Kootenai Ponderay Sewer District have enough capacity to support the addition of 116 residences without taxing the systems.
“[KPSD] is, I believe, developing a facility plan currently to upgrade their wastewater plant and they did receive a grant for that,” said Tadic, addressing concerns that the development would raise local taxes. “As Mike [Hammack] pointed out, this development will pay $1 million in new user facility fees into the Kootenai Ponderay Sewer District system. That is independent of the actual cost of installing the infrastructure itself.”
To accommodate the increased traffic, developers will also provide lighting and right- and left-hand turn lanes at the intersection of Providence Road and Highway 200.
“We’re willing to do anything [the Idaho Transportation Department] wants done. So, I don’t know what else we can do other than follow every one of these ordinances’ codes,” said Hammack. “When you guys put conditions on us, we have to follow those conditions if we want to get final plat. We don’t get final plat, we’ve spent all this time and money for nothing.”
As of Oct. 2, there are no plans for the City of Kootenai to annex the development — a fact that Hammack attributes to his previous personal difficulties with city officials.
“The city [of Kootenai] wants to note that they are only open to the annexation prior to the development occurring — so, like, any of the improvements — because, obviously, if you’re going to annex into the city, you want it to be to city standards,” said Tessa Vogel, assistant land use planner representing Kootenai.
The subdivision will meet Bonner County Code, but developers would need to update certain requirements — such as sidewalk width — to meet Kootenai’s standards.
Commissioner Asia Williams voiced concerns that the area’s current infrastructure can’t support 116 new residences.
“Do we have the school infrastructure to support that amount of development in that particular area? When you look at the current population of the schools, it’s not supporting that,” she said. “The valid concern from the community is they are then taking on the cost of the development through a failing infrastructure.”
At a July 5 hearing, Chief Financial Operations Officer Brian Wallace gave neutral testimony on behalf of the Lake Pend Oreille School District.
“As a district and an organization, we are not opposed to development,” he said, according to a transcript provided by Bonner County Senior Planner Swati Rastogi. “However, with that said, you know our district is near capacity at many of our buildings.”
Wallace went on to explain that the development could challenge the district, but it falls on the taxpayers to fund school growth and the construction of new buildings.
Before the vote, members of the public asked that Commissioner Steve Bradshaw recuse himself because, by his own admission, he’s known Hammack for 34 years. Deputy Prosecutor Bill Wilson testified that the relationship did not constitute a conflict of interest.
Commissioner Luke Omodt moved to approve the project on the condition that the developer widen the 25-foot easement off of Chewelah Loop to 60 feet to ensure emergency vehicles’ access to the subdivision. Both Omodt and Bradshaw determined that the development complies with Bonner County Revised Code; however, Williams stated that she believes it fails to meet five of the eight provided criteria, including adherence to the Bonner County Comprehensive Plan.
“There’s nothing wrong with going back to the drawing board to say, ‘How can we resolve this and do a better job of it?’ That’s my recommendation,” she said.
Omodt and Bradshaw approved the project, with Williams opposed.
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