By Zach Hagadone
As the Sandpoint City Council unanimously adopted its long-running Parks and Recreation Master Plan on Sept. 16, the first piece of the city’s Waterfront at Farmin’s Landing concept moved closer to becoming a reality, when council members unanimously approved a land swap that proponents say will fuel downtown redevelopment while improving Sand Creek frontage and laying the groundwork for future plans to ease multi-modal access at the intersection of Bridge Street and North First Avenue.
The land swap with development firm Bridge Street LLC will transfer a 3,678-square-foot parcel of city-owned property worth $410,000 to the company in exchange for a number of direct benefits, including 890 square feet of right of way on Bridge Street valued at $46,673.
The company will also remove the preexisting ramp from Bridge Street to the parking area east of First Avenue and build a new retaining wall valued at $182,680; contribute $181,592 toward construction of the waterfront plan — part of the Parks and Rec Master Plan — which includes a new dock retaining wall and stormwater and landscape improvements; contribute $75,000 to a $150,000 city project to build stairs connecting Bridge Street to Farmin’s Landing through Bridge Street LLC’s parcel; and build sidewalk/pavers, including a new curb, ornamental lights and street furniture, valued at $74,055.
For its part, the city would kick in $75,000 for the Bridge Street stairs.
Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton told the council that Bridge Street LLC., which this year acquired the two properties devastated by the February 2019 downtown fire, approached the city in March with an idea to “kind of turn the property around” by facing it toward the Sand Creek waterfront — in sync with the city’s plans, two years in the works, to first improve stormwater management and take greater advantage of the First Avenue backlot (a.k.a. Gunning’s Alley) as a byway-facing pedestrian- and business-friendly “riverwalk” area.
“This additional funding from the developer helps us move that forward,” Stapleton said.
It is estimated in city planning documents that the properties at North First Avenue and Bridge Street would be worth as much as $16 million when fully redeveloped as a multi-use building with The Hound restaurant on the ground floor, and commercial and residential space above.
As such, the city stands to realize $75,200 per year in property tax revenue; a total of $70,000 in development impact fees; and, crucially, a chunk of funding for the Waterfront at Farmin’s Landing concept.
Developer Cliff Davis, participating in the meeting via Zoom, said, “My company is currently owner of the biggest eyesore in Sandpoint and we’d like to take care of that as soon as possible,” going on to add that that he hopes his project will “be the first to really incorporate both sides” — uniting North First Avenue with Sand Creek — and bringing “more energy down near the waterfront.”
Among the “highest priorities,” Davis said, is to get The Hound “back in business as quickly as possible.”
Owner Ben Higgs, who also owns Powder Hound Pizza on Schweitzer and Idaho Pour Authority on Cedar Street in downtown Sandpoint, touted the land swap as a means toward eliminating dangerous traffic conflicts where the current ramp meets Bridge Street and, “it would allow us to begin the rebuilding process of one of Sandpoint’s favorite restaurants,” which was lost in the 2019 fire.
While the council stated no opposition to the swap — nor did any public testimony come out against it — some residents worried about how redevelopment at the site in conjunction with the Waterfront at Farmin’s Landing would affect bicycle and pedestrian access.
The central question, as several speakers put it, is how to get an 8-year-old on a bike safely from their home to City Beach.
“Let’s answer this question once and for all,” said longtime resident and former bike and pedestrian committee member Rebecca Holland.
Sandpoint Public Works Director Amanda Wilson presented a few tentative plans for how to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists in an envisioned reorientation of the “problematic” First Avenue and Bridge Street intersection, saying that in the still-ongoing Multi-Modal Master Plan, “I am confident … that we will be able to find a solution that gets an 8-year-old to City Beach.”
Developer Davis said he’s aiming to “start pouring concrete with the thaw in the spring.”
Meanwhile, Stapleton said, “We’re looking forward to seeing something rise out of the ground.”
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