Council appoints P&Z members, funds housing study and lobbyist

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Sandpoint City Council members took up a number of growth and development-related issues at their regular meeting Dec. 15, including new appointees to the Planning and Zoning Commission, acceptance of grant funding for a study on housing, and putting general fund dollars toward a multi-city effort to hire a lobbyist focused on representing the interests of resort communities at the Idaho Capitol.

First up, Mayor Shelby Rognstad presented his picks for the P&Z Commission: Amelia Boyd, John Hastings, Ben McGrann and Luke Omodt.

Rognstad noted that more than a dozen applicants put forth their names, “and never before have I seen anywhere near this number of applicants, and from very qualified candidates, many of them.”

Boyd, McGrann and Omodt would fill seats being vacated by Commissioners Cate Huisman, Tom Riggs and Chairman Jason Welker — the latter joining the City Council as its newest member in January. Hastings currently serves as vice chairman and so would be a reappointment.

Rognstad said Boyd already has experience serving the city on the Parks and Recreation Commission and has demonstrated her familiarity with the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Hastings, as a reappointment, has already shown his abilities on the commission while Rognstad pointed to McGrann’s experience with local development and development management as attractive qualities for P&Z. Meanwhile, Omodt — who ran an unsuccessful campaign for City Council in the most recent election — impressed the mayor with his consistent presence and comments on critical issues at council meetings.

Council member Joel Aispuro expressed a desire to table confirmation of the appointments until the council could fully vet all the applications received by the city, suggesting that “it just seems like there were more qualified candidates.” While stressing that he wasn’t casting aspersions on those selected by the mayor, he added that “the future coming up is going to be very intense” in terms of growth and development, and wanted to be sure he’d seen all the available options before casting a vote.

Council President Shannon Sherman and Council member John Darling joined Aispuro voting in favor of tabling the appointment vote, triggering a tie with Council members Andy Groat, Kate McAlister and Deb Ruehle voting “no.” Rognstad broke the tie with a “yes” vote.

Boyd, Hastings, McGrann and Omodt were appointed 4-2, with Aispuro and Darling voting “no.”

The council later unanimously voted to accept a $20,000 grant from the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation’s Community Health Academy Program, which would fund a housing and land use study — and pay a contract facilitator — to analyze the findings and recommend future actions geared toward improving access to affordable and workforce housing.

Rognstad said he’d been working with Blue Cross on housing issues for more than a year, and such a study could not only further the work of his Workforce Housing Task Force but inform the long-awaited Comp Plan update, which is expected to get underway after the new year.

“We have not done an independent study like this in the past,” said City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton, noting that Boise-based consultant Phil Kushlan and Portland, Ore.-based Leland Consulting have been identified as qualified parties to steer the study.

“This would give us some outside data and analysis to an extent that we haven’t had in the past,” she said.

The study would be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2022.

Finally, Rognstad presented a proposal that Sandpoint join as many as 16 other “resort cities” around the state to pool their resources toward hiring a lobbyist in Boise to press for their issues at the Statehouse. 

Sandpoint’s share would be no more than $2,000 — “a small price to pay, I think,” Rognstad said — for taking steps to ensure smaller, amenity-rich communities in the state don’t get forgotten or even potentially harmed by legislation in the upcoming session.

“This is money that will be spent for the long-term interests of Sandpoint,” he said.

Aispuro and Darling both worried about the proposal; the former saying, “I have a hard time believing 16 cities having the same goals, the same principles, the same beliefs,” and the latter expressing “grave concerns” that the city could end up lobbying against the interests of its own property owners, specifically in the case of short-term rentals.

Rognstad said, “The directives of the lobbyist will be directed by the cities,” and included a provision in his motion that Sandpoint’s financial contribution would be contingent upon seeing an advance lobbying agenda. 

Aispuro, while pledging to keep a sharp eye on the direction of the lobbying efforts, voted “yes,” along with Groat, McAlister, Ruehle and Sherman. Darling cast the sole dissenting vote.

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