City P&Z delays recommendation on University Park development

Commission parses open space, traffic and ‘neighborhood feel’ at former-U of I property

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Sandpoint Planning and Zoning commissioners took their first deep dive Sept. 15 into the University Park development, a mixed use subdivision proposed for the 75-acre former University of Idaho property on North Boyer.

Yet, after three hours of presentations, testimony and deliberation, commissioners balked at forwarding a recommendation to the City Council — opting instead to postpone that decision until their Tuesday, Oct. 6 regular meeting.

A schematic of the proposed development at University Park, the former U of I property on N. Boyer Ave. in Sandpoint. Courtesy image.

Concerns about the project, reflected both in public testimony and voiced by some commissioners, centered on preservation of open space and traffic impacts — as well as design issues related to the “neighborhood feel” of the development, which envisions 133 single-family homes; between 150 and 160 multi-family homes; a 45,000-square-foot self-storage facility; and 10,000-square-foot commercial shopping center on the site.

Sandpoint Planning and Community Development Director Aaron Qualls told commission members that while the project is much larger than what they’re used to dealing with, it follows the same process as any other development — beginning with the draft development agreement they considered on Sept. 15.

Representing the applicants — owner-developers Tim McDonnell of K-M Enterprises of Idaho and Derek Mulgrew of M&W Holdings — Jeremy Grimm outlined the four phases of proposed construction, which would be spaced over a five-year period from 2020 to 2025.

Grimm, a former Sandpoint planning and community development director and currently of Whiskey Rock Planning and Consulting, emphasized that “this is a really special site,” noting the long history of the property as a U of I experimental agriculture station and, later, much-used open space for hikers, bikers and cross country skiers.

Citing his experience as a city planner who worked on previous proposals at the former-university property, Grimm told the commissioners that the developers have already secured a letter of intent to grant three parcels totaling 16.5 acres to Kaniksu Land Trust as a conservation easement or gift — a conscious effort to meet planning goals first articulated in 2018, when it was proposed that the city acquire the property. 

“We strive for public access,” said KLT Executive Director Katie Egland Cox, adding that “this project is a huge step toward that goal. … We fully support this development proposal.”

Grimm said residential lot sizes would vary between  5,100 and 9,000 square feet — with 51 lots below 6,500 square feet, deemed “affordable.”

“[The developers] have really worked hard to make that mixture work,” he said.

Where commissioners and several area residents had the most worry was regarding the potential traffic impacts on North Boyer Avenue, East Mountain View Drive and Aspen Way. 

The traffic study provided to the commission estimated that at full build-out the development would add 292 net new peak hour vehicle trips, entering and exiting the property at four points: two at the southern end of the development directly onto North Boyer and two at the northern end onto East Mountain View — the latter which would be redesignated from a local road to a collector street, funneling drivers from the interior of the site to North Boyer. 

Traffic was a concern even among some who testified that they were generally in favor of the project. Supporters highlighted the dire need for more affordable housing in the area; the potential financial benefits to the city in terms of property tax revenue and development impact fees, which Grimm estimated at $300,000 per year and a total of $1.2 million, respectively; not to mention the employment of as many as 126 contractors and subcontractors, Grimm said. Yet, some raised alarms that not only could North Boyer suffer from the additional traffic load, but residents on Aspen Way may find their local road turning into a de facto bypass for motorists trying to avoid delays at the East Mountain View and Boyer access point.

“By the time Phase 3 is open I think it’s going to be a real nightmare to get on Boyer from East Mountain View,” said neighbor Debra Ziebell. 

Fellow neighbor Rob Osborn said that while he had changed his opinion from “neutral” to “in support” upon hearing of the potential KLT land grant, he still feared “ugly incidents, traffic-wise” on Boyer — especially when trains at the crossing near the south end of the development site cause vehicles to back up on the street.

One potential fix may be to provide a protected left turn at East Mountain View and North Boyer, while others suggested a roundabout at Airport Way. However, Grimm said that two engineering firms modeled the traffic impact — noting also that the 292 net new trips estimate was based on “a very ambitious plan” at full build — and found that a turn lane on Mountain View “is not necessitated.”

“If I was a neighbor to this development I too would be concerned about traffic spilling over into Aspen Way,” said Commissioner Jason Welker. “I can see that being a major problem if there isn’t an option to turn left.”

Welker also raised “neighborhood feel” concerns regarding the potential for a wall going up along a 2,000-foot section of North Boyer, where homes would be constructed on double frontage lots — their back lawns facing the busy street — leading to what Welker characterized as “suburbanized versions of neighborhoods” and “a walled-off suburban subdivision.”

Qualls said fences up to seven feet tall are allowed without a building permit as long as they meet the setback requirements.

“That is certainly a possibility and probably something we can expect,” he said. 

Commissioner Cate Huisman echoed Welker’s worry about fences, wondering aloud if North Boyer would turn into one of those “long canyons of plastic walls” that typify some developments in the Coeur d’Alene area.

“Do we have any option to apply to avoid North Boyer becoming a canyon of plastic walls?” she asked, to which City Land Attorney Fonda Jovick reminded the commissioners that the issue before the body was “just preliminary” and did not include hammering out design standards.

The commission voted 6-1 to postpone further deliberations, with Commissioner Mose Dunkel voting “nay.” Commissioner Forrest Schuck recused himself owing to once and potential future business relationships with the developers.

“Regardless, on Oct. 6, you’re going to have to forward something to City Council — a recommendation,” Qualls said.

The next Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 6 at City Hall, 1123 Lake St.

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