By Zach Hagadone
Sandpoint City Council members voted Nov. 4 to approve the preliminary plat for development of the University Park subdivision — a 152-lot residential-commercial project planned for the 75-acre former-University of Idaho property on North Boyer Avenue.
However, they had some conditions.
Planning and Zoning Commission members recommended that council deny the project, citing concerns about traffic impacts, public access to open spaces along Sand Creek and the effect of double frontage lots along 2,000-foot stretch of North Boyer — what P&Z Commissioners Cate Husiman and Jason Welker both zeroed in on the potential aesthetic effect of what they called “a plastic canyon,” akin to large-scale developments on the Rathdrum Prairie and Coeur d’Alene areas.
The developer and city council members sparred over the design specifications, with the ultimate decision being that the developers — Tim McDonnell and Derek Mulgrew — will have ultimate control over the design of the so-called “wall,” whether it will have features to break up its appearance, but have committed not to construct it in vinyl.
Council members also approved revisions to the preliminary plat including that the city will handle snow removal along major streets outside the development, agree to extending build out to 2025 and forego construction of a right turn lane on Ebbett Way until traffic conditions require it.
A final plant will go before the council at a to-be-determined date.
“This was a really drawn out process,” said Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad. “Everybody has put a lot of work into this.”
Councilwoman Deb Ruehle opposed the project — the sole nay vote, though Councilwoman Kate McAlister was absent — worried that public access to property isn’t assured, nor is the developers’ assurances that the Kaniksu Land Trust will take possession of 16 acres of the property in a public trust.
“I would caution the rest of the council that while we have a letter of intent [with KLT], we have no guarantee that it will happen,” she said. “If it’s not in writing, then it’s not in writing.”
Ruehle added: “This will be a legacy for the council,” suggesting that “part of this development needs to go back to the drawing board.”
Katie Egland Cox, executive director of KLT, spoke in favor of the project, stating that her organization is “thrilled” to partner with the developers to preserve a significant portion of Sand Creek, which is to be passed over to the conservation nonprofit.
“This property has long been on KLT’s radar,” she said, noting its historically and ecologically important areas.
Jeremy Grimm, principal at Whiskey Rock Planning and a former director of planning and community development for the city of Sandpoint, represented the developers. He underscored the importance of the prospective agreement with KLT, noting that nearly 27% of the entire property would be given over to public space.
Yet, he said, the project — despite its large size — mirrors the city’s own plans for the property.
“We’re aware that you’re faced with competing and sometimes contradictory aspirational long-range plans,” Grimm said, adding that the University Park development meets them.
Regardless, Ruehle said, “It’s my feeling that we may be able to do a little better job with this than we’re doing.”
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