BoCo commissioners approve 700-acre Selle Valley zone change

File gains 2-1 approval after 4-hour public hearing

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

The board of Bonner County commissioners voted Feb. 9 to approve the rezone of more than 700 acres in the Selle Valley, changing the land designation from 20- to 10-acre parcel minimums. The motion passed on a 2-1 vote after a more than four-hour public hearing at the Bonner County Administration Building, with Commissioners Dan McDonald and Jeff Connolly in support and Steve Bradshaw against.

An aerial shot of the Selle Valley. Photo by Max Zuberbuhler.

The decision comes after the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission recommended denial of the zone change in November, despite planning staff determining that the request would keep the land in compliance with the Bonner County Comprehensive Plan. Under the Comp Plan, the land — owned by the Skinner and Otis families, or Pack River Partners, LLC — must remain Agricultural-Forestry 20 or AF-10.

In his staff report presentation Feb. 9, Planner Chad Chambers reminded the board and attendees that the file before them had only to do with zoning — not any future plans for development.

“A request for a zone change is not a request for a subdivision of land,” he said.

Dan Provolt, a surveyor representing the applicants, shared a history of the property, noting that when the Skinners purchased the land in 1996 and 2003, it was zoned AF-10. During a countywide zoning overhaul in 2008, it changed to AF-20.

“The Skinners went about their business of farming and ranching as meetings were being held,” Provolt said, arguing that there was not adequate notice of the zone change in 2008.

“Their rights as private landowners, as well as the rights and possibilities that came with the land they purchased in 1996 and 2003, was taken from them,” he added.

Despite that alleged loss of “rights and possibilities,” Provolt said that Don Skinner does not plan to develop his land. Skinner concurred when he addressed the board.

“To set the record straight, there’s been a lot of misinformation and a lot of accusations toward our family, toward our ranch and toward our business,” Skinner said. “It’s gotten so volatile where it is pitting neighbor against neighbor, and that’s a dangerous place to be.

“I don’t have any plans, other than I want my zoning back to where it was when I purchased it,” he added.

Provolt pointed to the 10- and five-acre parcels scattered throughout the Selle Valley as proof that rural character and farming practices could be preserved even on 10-acre pieces of land.

“I would venture to say that most people driving through the Selle Valley wouldn’t know when it changed from AF-10 to AF-20,” he said.

The public comment period saw more than 30 people opposed to the zone change, as well as a small handful either in favor or simply asking questions about the proposal. Those opposed expressed concerns about water availability, the local infrastructure’s capacity to support up to 71 new homes and the reality of truly viable, regenerative farming practices on 10 acres or less.

“The fact is, you chop it up, you never get it back,” said Selle Valley resident Jennifer Wood. “Let’s preserve our home.”

Dave Bowman, of the newly formed land use watchdog group Keep Bonner County Rural, cited a portion of the Pack River Partners’ application, which states the “reason for the zone change” as “to allow the land owners to have usable options for the parcels, similar to the surrounding area.”

“Folks, that’s not a necessity,” he said. “That’s a want.”

Susan Bowman pointed to the concept of “spot zoning” — what many opponents see as the ability for a landowner to essentially handpick their property’s designation.

“We all know that development is inevitable,” she said. “All we are asking is that you be fair and not favor one property owner by allowing spot zoning. … I hope today will be the day that you start listening to the people and begin following our zoning laws.”

Doug Gunter stated that the commissioners’ decision on the file, and several other files headed to public hearings in coming weeks, would “determine whether you’ll be sitting in those chairs for another term.”

“The people are disgusted with what you are allowing and we are about ready to make change,” he said.

Though the P&Z Commission recommended denial in November on the grounds that the zone change violated Title 12 of Bonner County Revised Code and elements of the Comp Plan such as land use, public services, implementation, natural resources, school facilities and transportation, the legitimacy of that decision came into question several times at the Feb. 9 meeting.

“It seemed like they were stepping outside the bounds of what their job was,” Commissioner Jeff Connolly said. “A lot of this stuff that they’re addressing in their finding is part of a subdivision [process], not part of this zone change.”

Commissioner Dan McDonald said he was “befuddled” by the recommendation to deny. Despite concerns that McDonald’s personal relationship with Skinner would make his participation in the decision a conflict of interest, county legal counsel confirmed at the top of the hearing that McDonald had been interviewed and cleared to vote on the file.

“We’ve taken this one piece of land and we’ve treated it differently than any other zone change we’ve ever done, is what it looks like to me,” he said, adding later: “I get the concerns about wells, I get the concerns about water, about impact on wildlife, the school district as well, but that would come only if the applicant chose to develop the property, and at that point there would come a whole other set of hearings.”

Though he spoke very little during the hearing leading up to deliberations, Commissioner Bradshaw made a motion to deny the zone change, citing the applicant’s “lack of being able to show the necessity.” His motion died without a second, and Connolly presented a motion to approve the zone change, which passed with McDonald’s support.

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.