By Lyndsie Kiebert
Bonner County commissioners approved a controversial zone change April 28 for 160 acres in the Hoodoo Valley, which would change the property from agricultural/forestry to a rural residential designation, allowing for five-acre parcels where there used to be a 10-acre minimum.
The application, put forth by property owner and Hayden-based Daum Construction, has drawn vocal opposition from neighbors who see the zone change as making way for denser housing, creating what they see as a threat to the agricultural character of the valley, its aquifer and traffic safety.
Planning staff and the Bonner County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended denial of the file earlier this year. The board of commissioners was set to make a final decision on the application in March, but opted to move deliberations to April. At the April 14 hearing, Board Chair Dan McDonald announced that new facts and agency comments had come to light, and that the hearing would need to be pushed to April 28.
Planning Director Milton Ollerton presented to commissioners at that final meeting, where it was discussed that the original recommendation to deny was not based on the findings of fact. The planner who wrote the initial report gave notice before the file’s first hearing that she’d be leaving her position with the county, according to Ollerton.
“I did not change or rewrite the staff report,” he told the Reader in a follow-up email May 3. “I reviewed the comp plan and the zoning ordinance with the commissioners. The findings of fact that I presented at the hearing were the same findings of fact from the staff report. The board decided the conclusion from the findings of fact was to approve the project. Well, two of them did.”
Ollerton added that the review of the staff report at the hearing was necessary because the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality sent a new letter in response to public concern about possible negative effects on area waterways, “stating that the development would not have any impact on Hoodoo Creek,” Ollerton said.
The April 28 meeting drew public comments entirely against the proposed changes. Several speakers were warned against sharing disparaging or off-topic remarks and, at one point, McDonald told one unidentified speaker: “There’s the door.”
The nearly two-and-a-half-hour meeting ended when commissioners approved the rezone — and attached comp plan amendment — on a split vote: McDonald and Commissioner Jeff Connolly in favor, and Commissioner Steve Bradshaw opposed, citing that he was the “voice for y’all” — referring to the audience filled with rezone opponents.
While a “compromise” of sorts was discussed, which would have rezoned only half the property to allow five-acre lots and the rest remain at least 10 acres, that proposal did not spur a motion. Bradshaw’s motion to deny failed without a second.
McDonald and Connolly maintained that they were obligated to follow the law and, based on findings of fact, could not lawfully deny Daum Construction’s file. Connolly used part of his deliberation time to express his frustration with some of the remarks directed at the commissioners, specifically regarding the board receiving possible “benefits” should the property be developed.
“Do you think this is a benefit, to me, to sit in front of you folks and be called, basically, a thief, and to question my integrity? It is no benefit to me. I have lots of things I could be doing that would suit me a lot better than this, and it’s quite offensive actually,” he said.
Connolly added that, as a lifelong resident of Bonner County, he could identify with the dislike for change and growth — and also noted that many of the people in the meeting room had moved to North Idaho during his lifetime.
“So, yeah, we don’t always want to see growth, but Bonner County is going to grow — that’s just the way it is. It’s a beautiful place, everybody loves it. I love it to death,” he said, noting that strong opposition to zone changes is apparent across the county, and he’s not sure exactly where the “smart growth” that people want to see will be able to happen within the current “not-in-my-neighborhood” attitude.
Applications and corresponding agency comments on active Bonner County planning and zoning files are available for the public to view at bonnercountyid.gov/departments/planning/current-projects. In the sidebar of the Current Projects webpage, also find the link titled Public Hearings to keep up-to-date on when the planning and zoning commission and BOCC will make planning decisions.
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