City pushing Comp Plan forward, still looking for public input

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

There was a tone of frustration in the Oct. 4 meeting of the Sandpoint Planning and Zoning Commission, as members took in a presentation on the results of the recent Comprehensive Plan survey, which only drew 202 respondents.

“Two hundred doesn’t sound like enough,” said City Attorney Fonda Jovick.

“Not in a city of 10,000,” added Commissioner Luke Omodt.

The survey informs the ongoing efforts to craft an updated plan for future growth. City leaders last crafted a Comp Plan in 2009, making this revision particularly important, as much has changed in the community since then — and more so over the past three years, with its wave of population growth.

Sandpoint City Council. Photo by Ben Olson.

Big things are happening with the Comp Plan process, including a meeting Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 5:30 p.m. to review the draft Jobs and Economic Development and Natural Resources Hazards chapters, followed by all-day Housing and Neighborhoods workshops 1-6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 26 and Thursday, Oct. 27 at City Hall (1123 Lake St.). The open house-style format will include a mapping exercise on density; a review of regulations regarding height, density, standards and uses in various areas; how to define “neighborhood character”; and visual preference related to housing types, such as duplexes, townhouses, multi-family, cottage housing and accessory dwelling units.

Responses to almost every question in the survey came in the range of 76-83% in favor, with a consistent percentage registering unfavorable to the Comp Plan statements:

• “The City of Sandpoint celebrates our local culture, character, and connections with our scenic surroundings, and cultivates a vibrant community for generations to come.” (72% agree);

• “A diverse mix of businesses and nonprofit organizations benefit from the quality education, versatile workforce, fair taxes, sensible regulation, and reliable connections to the region and the world.” (76% agree);

• “Development should be based on principles that assure good stewardship of resources and responsible outcomes relative to the built and natural environment.” (83% agree)

• “Development should provide connections among people through a diverse mix of housing, walkable and bike-able neighborhoods that are safe and secure, ready access to recreational facilities and public spaces, and robust street and digital infrastructure.” (78% agree)

• “The Sandpoint community should be inspired to create, experience, and support our history, social events, recreational pursuits, and art of all kinds.” (77% agree).

Lacking much public engagement — the Sandpoint Reader was the only observer of the Oct. 4 meeting — commission members must work with the feedback they have, and it was scanty and unrepresentative, given its small sample size, according to officials.

“The desire of the community is supposed to pour into your Comprehensive Plan, and that requires involvement, and then your Comprehensive Plan — in a perfect world — feeds back all of that information that came into it from the public and then gives direction to the commission and the council for establishing your codes,” said Jovick. “That’s the whole purpose of the Comprehensive Plan. 

“But if you don’t have a broad spectrum of your community pouring information in to help develop a Comprehensive Plan that truly is reflective of a cross-section of  the community’s needs, then you’re missing bits and pieces,” she added, “But you can’t go out and force people to provide information and give input. So you rely on the information you get from those who choose to participate.”

Omodt also emphasized the importance of community involvement — and definitions for who lives where. Often, residents who don’t live within Sandpoint city limits retain Sandpoint addresses, and wonder whether they are required to adhere to Sandpoint Code.

“The city of Sandpoint Comprehensive Plan is a legal document, so, there’s many people who have strong opinions, as they have invested potentially generations into our community. I would advocate as much clarity as possible to this plan so people understand there are boundaries to this plan.” Omodt said.

The frustrated nature of the meeting centered on what P&Z Commissioner Ameila Boyd called “misconceptions” about what can and can’t be done by city officials and City Hall staff, especially regarding growth.

“There’s a lot of talk about the corner of First and Bridge Street,” she said. “There’s a lot of misconception of what we and City Council can actually do. … I don’t think they [the public] understand the right of ownership, and what they can build.”

That was a theme of the proceedings, following the presentation. City Hall has heard enough complaints about development and representation that electeds and staff alike singled out those concerns.

“What I got from the comments of the survey is, ‘ We don’t need condos downtown.’ We can’t control who buys and owns property as long as they follow the codes. We can’t force them to do affordable housing,” said City Planner Amy Tweeten, referring to the luxury condos planned for the corner of First Avenue and Bridge Street.

She added that, based on the comments to the survey, there were many concerns about design and the type of people — based on market rate, that is to say “well off” — who might one day own those spaces, but not about height. 

“If there was an affordable housing project downtown, is 65 feet OK?,” Tweeten said. “Is it the character [that community members are really concerned about]?”

Commission Chairperson John Hastings said he’d heard from “more than one source” that “community desires, community norms, should outweigh the rights of the individual property owner, and that’s not the way it works Idaho — I don’t think that’s the way it works hardly anywhere, but I’ve heard that from multiple people.”

Jovick said something similar: “The public needs to understand that this is Idaho, and there are still fundamental rights to owning property.”

Tweeten, for her part, keyed into the aversion to growth held by many Sandpoint residents. 

“People are very touchy when something comes close to their home,” she said, referring to the notion of “neighborhood character” and how it may or may not be altered by development, later adding: “How do we get to ‘yes in my backyard,’ versus ‘not in my backyard every time?’”

What the Oct. 4 meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission came down to was a plea for more citizen engagement, as the Comprehensive Plan will guide growth in Sandpoint in both the near and short terms.

“The first thing I would ask somebody who complains about what’s not being done to protect them is, ‘Are you participating?’” said Jovick. “‘Have you answered the surveys? Are you providing input? Are you coming to the meetings? Are you at least watching them after the fact?’ They’re all published. ‘How are you … participating in the process, because now is your opportunity.’”


Upcoming workshops:

Little Sand Creek Watershed Recreation Plan

Saturday, Oct. 8 — 10 a.m. All are invited to celebrate the completion of the new Little Sand Creek (LSC) Watershed — “Lower Basin XC” multi-use, soft-surface trail. Please join the Pend Oreille Pedalers (POP) at switchback No. 4 on Schweitzer Mountain Road for a ribbon cutting ceremony, to acknowledge the effort between the City, POP, the trail builders, and dozens of volunteers who put in more than 700 hours of labor to get this trail added to the Lower Basin network.  

The planning team will be in town all next week to assist the city in the planning for the Little Sand Creek Watershed Recreation master plan. There will be two public meetings and all are invited:

Tuesday, Oct. 11 — 5:30-8 p.m. at City Hall Council Chambers (1123 Lake St.). All are invited to a general overview meeting about the Little Sand Creek Watershed recreation planning project. There will be two presentations: 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., including feedback and Q/A opportunities with the planning team from the National Park Service-Rivers, Trails and Conservation Association.

Wednesday, Oct. 12 — 5:30 pm at Matchwood Brewing (513 Oak St.). The city of Sandpoint and POP are holding a focus group meeting for all trail users in Bonner County who wish to share their vision for recreation in the Little Sand Creek Watershed. International Mountain Bike Association’s (IMBA) Trail Solutions team will be in town to kick off the development of a detailed trail plan for the Lower Basin and the greater Watershed west of Schweitzer Mountain Road.

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