By Zach Hagadone
The first hour or so of the regular business meeting of the Bonner County commissioners July 25 proceeded without incident.
The Road and Bridge Department earned plaudits for reopening Dufort Road after a catastrophic culvert collapse rendered the route impassable for weeks, then commissioners approved a $46 final payment that will mark the beginning of work on the Rapid Lightning Bridge after the federal government waived the requirement for local matching funds on the design phase.
“[T]he best deal we ever got on a bridge,” Commission Chair Steve Bradshaw said.
Commissioners then agreed to hold a workshop at a yet-to-be-determined date on whether to contract with a third-party vendor to create a database of non-compliant vacation rental properties in the county, followed by news that Bonner County will revamp its website for $8,000, with work performed by current site host and designer EvoGov, representing a $20,000 discount.
When the meeting progressed to the issue of the Bonner County Fairgrounds and a proposed RV park at the site, the tenor of the discussion changed.
Commissioner Asia Williams led off by stating that the county has paid about $8,000 to Sewell Associates since the board voted 2-1 in March to proceed with a boundary line adjustment that would clear the way for a full platting of the fairgrounds and a section of the property to the south, where Commissioners Steve Bradshaw and Luke Omodt have supported development of an RV park.
However, Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler has long maintained that the southern part of the property, which abuts the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office facility, is intended for the future expansion of a justice complex. Williams has consistently also opposed the RV park proposal.
The issue has generated months of heated debate — with current Fair Board members indicating they do not support the proposed RV park — and in late June the denial of a grant extension of $473,000 from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation citing “unresolved items,” including the lack of a completed bid for the work, indeterminate local funding, no construction contract and the resulting uncertainty over whether the project could be delivered within a year.
Meanwhile, Sewell and Associates, representing the BOCC, went before the Sandpoint Planning and Zoning Commission on July 18, seeking to rezone about 2.5 acres on two parcels of fairgrounds property in order to move forward with RV park construction.
Sandpoint P&Z commissioners voted to recommend denial of the larger rezone, which would have changed 2.2 acres of fairgrounds property from mixed-use residential to rural residential, but recommended approval of moving .3 acres from rural residential to mixed-use residential.
Wheeler testified in opposition, stating that the rezone application before the city was “illegally usurping the authority of the Bonner County Fair Board” and the city shouldn’t be an “accessory.”
Omodt, who stated that he was speaking as a commissioner, not the applicant, countered that “the board of commissioners is in support of this rezone project because we believe it will best serve the county moving forward.”
P&Z commissioners expressed concerns that the rezone on the larger parcel didn’t fit with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, that it may have unintended consequences — including housing — should the county someday no longer own the property, and that the Fair Board should be consulted as well.
“There is no time rush on this at all,” said P&Z Chair John Hastings before moving to recommend the Sandpoint City Council deny the rezone on the 2.2-acre parcel. “If we were to deny this rezone, they can always reapply.”
Citing the Sandpoint P&Z Commission’s recommendation of denial, Williams said at the July 25 BOCC meeting that it was “clearly not” necessary to rezone the property to proceed with the RV park, and would “actually devalue our land.”
Given all that, Williams brought a motion that the county not move forward with another grant application until — or unless — the Fair Board proposes its own plan. That motion died lacking a second from Omodt.
Williams then brought another motion to drop the rezone application. Omodt seconded in order to open debate.
Williams reiterated that the county continues to pay Sewell and Associates for work at the fairgrounds — saying that Bonner County currently owes the company $1,400 — and added later, “Why are we going to continue to push an application to rezone this land when it is costing us money right now for a plan that might not come to fruition?”
Omodt pointed out that the Sandpoint P&Z Commission — on which he served for one year prior to his election as a county commissioner — has no regulatory authority, and only advises the City Council through its recommendations. Furthermore, the notion that housing may one day be developed on the 2.2-acre parcel has “never been a conversation, nor am I aware that there will ever be a conversation about putting housing on that plot of land.”
He added: “As for value, the value is in what that property can do for Bonner County. As of right now, with regards to this zone change — which has only gone before the P&Z Commission — is that it’s done nothing. …
“The rezone is what gives Bonner County residents the greatest opportunity to enjoy those blessings and opportunities we have,” he said.
The discussion deteriorated as Williams repeatedly asked Omodt to explain why the county continues to pay Sewell and Associates, with Omodt responding, “I have stated my position multiple times throughout the past six months and my position has not changed. … It’s in the best long-term interest of Bonner County.”
“You’re talking but you’re not answering the question,” Williams responded after Omodt called for the question in order to close the discussion.
Williams pointed out that both Bradshaw and Omodt had supported using Robert’s Rules of Order to manage parliamentary procedure during meetings, and under those rules, she was entitled to “full and fair deliberation on the topic,” and therefore it was inappropriate to end debate by calling the question.
Bradshaw then called for a roll call vote — which again would have ended discussion — prompting Williams to repeat her argument that Robert’s Rules of Order required that her voice as the minority position on the board be heard.
“Is he not answering the question or do you just not like the answer, because I heard the answer,” Bradshaw said, then called for an abrupt recess, closing the agenda and moving the board into executive session.
Williams protested, telling Bradshaw he couldn’t go into executive session under the rules, to which he responded: “I just did.”
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