City recaps housing and neighborhood workshops

Residents support accessory dwelling units, dislike big multi-family developments

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Members of the Sandpoint Planning and Zoning Commission took in a presentation Nov. 1 from City Planner Amy Tweeten, who recapped a pair of workshops hosted Oct. 20-21 focused on providing information and collecting public input on housing and neighborhoods. 

The workshops — held at City Hall and the Sandpoint Center — were intended to inform the ongoing update to the Comprehensive Plan, with a particular emphasis on identifying what types of housing residents would like to see and how they want their neighborhoods to look over the next 20 years.

Tweeten said attendance was sparse, with about 35 citizens turning out for the drop-in workshops, though those who participated were actively engaged.

Overall, attendees expressed strong support for accessory dwelling units as a means to ease Sandpoint’s affordable housing crunch and “some support” for allowing two story homes in all residential districts.

Specifically, residents were asked if they supported incentives to encourage ADU construction and conversion of existing structures into ADUs, and whether code changes should make townhouse lot construction more viable.

The city also asked whether residents supported increasing the number of multi-family units allowed without a conditional use permit — currently developers can build up to seven such units without a CUP — with the consensus being “little support” for the idea.

Workshop attendees also weighed in on what they like about their neighborhood and what they think could be changed to improve it, with the most common response centered on sidewalks — whether lauding their existing pedestrian infrastructure or stating that it needs to be improved.

Tweeten said “walkability” was far and away the biggest priority for residents when considering “what does a livable neighborhood look like to you?”

Among the other topics addressed at the workshops were zoning maps, including the future land use map under the current Comp Plan.

“This conversation is really rooted in when we talk about infill, what does that look like and where,” Sandpoint Infrastructure and Development Services Manager Amanda Wilson told the Reader at the Oct. 26. “Getting that pulse will help us inform how we get into the weeds on the future land use map and regulations.”

Yet, there was some disappointment among city officials that more Sandpointians didn’t participate in the workshops. 

“Engagement can be a challenge, but it takes a lot of effort,” Tweeten said. “It was probably worthwhile, even given the limited feedback we got at the workshops.”

As the Comp Plan update continues, Tweeten said City Hall may roll out the workshop information and questions again in the form of an online survey,  then return to the plan chapter on housing and neighborhoods with more robust citizen input.

The goal for having drafts of all Comp Plan chapters is early December.

Meanwhile, Tweeten said the consistency with which workshop participants expressed support for accessory dwelling units was sufficient to bring to council, and the trend was definitely clear that residents felt multi-family buildings next to single-family homes should be held to a different height requirement. Currently structures can rise to 35 feet in all residential zones, and up 45 feet of height is allowed in residential-multifamily zones, which actually cover much of the residential area between Division and Fifth avenues.

“There might be other ways to deal with the issue that people have with infill with bigger structures,” she said.

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