By Zach Hagadone
A 15-unit multi-family housing complex planned for the 1700 block of Cedar Street is still in limbo after the Sandpoint City Council voted Dec. 4 to send the proposal back to the Planning and Zoning Commission with the request that the overall development be limited to two stories.
The Ridge at Cedar Street apartments, fronted by Hayden-based Cedar Street Investments LLC., has made waves with neighbors for at least the past four months.
When it first came before P&Z in September, commissioners tabled their recommendation in the face of approximately 40 residents who showed up in force to express their opposition.
At the time, one resident promised to appeal should commissioners ultimately recommend approval of the conditional use permit — something P&Z did at its October meeting, albeit with conditions that its previous three-story design be stepped back from the street and a 6-foot masonry wall be erected along the eastern property line to mitigate light and noise pollution from its 24-stall parking lot.
As promised, Cedar Street neighbors appealed, triggering a public hearing before the City Council that again drew around 40 attendees to state their cases both for and against the project.
The appeal was lodged by resident Jean Allen, whose home would be located directly adjacent to eastern parking lot wall.
“All of us are shocked at the completely inappropriate scale and density of this building,” she told the council. “I’m distrubed that something with this kind of negative impact could be permitted next to me.”
Representing the applicant, Todd Butler, of Coeur d’Alene-based Forte Architecture and Planning maintained that the project had gone through the approval process in its entirety, “we met all the guidelines as dictated by the planning and zoning codes and, again, as part of that it had to go through this conditional use permit process, and as you can see we were approved. … We have met all of those conditions.”
He walked council members through the revisions to the concept, which included the conditions approved by P&Z in October: the stepped-back Cedar Street frontage rising from two stories in the north to three in the south and a wall along the eastern property line.
“I think it does come down at the end of the day to code vs. desires, and we’ve been doing the best that we can to limit impact and work within the rules that are outlined,” he said, adding that much more intrusive single- and multi-family developments could be put up on the same property under the minimum code requirements without going through the CUP process.
As with previous testimony related to the project, appellants ticked off a number of concerns: preserving the character of the predominantly single-story, single-family neighborhood and overtaxing an already-insufficient road infrastructure on Cedar Street with increased traffic and more on-street parking.
While these concerns were focused on the immediate vicinity of the 1700 block of Cedar, it quickly became clear that residents’ worries about the project touched on the much wider context of development changes around Sandpoint.
“Compounding the problem is the new four-way stop at Pine and Division,” said resident Shawn Martin. “It has been effective at relieving backed-up traffic crossing Division from Pine, however, during school times the backing-up is now on Division, at times extending to Cedar.”
He added that motorists attempting to circumvent that intersection have taken to surrounding streets as de facto bypasses, putting further stress on inadequate neighborhood streets.
“A reduced density [of the project] would at least minimize those impacts,” Martin added.
For others, such as Frances Ogilvie, who organized the opposition, the issue was of far larger “competing interests”: developers who wish to maximize profits and a city that wants to increase density while maintaining the quality and integrity of neighborhoods.
While about nine residents testified against the project, only one — Jennifer Anderson — spoke in favor, saying, “In my opinion, this modest project represents a suitable degree of density for this neighborhood” by supporting the city’s goal of increasing the housing stock. Two others signaled their support but did not speak.
Mayor Shelby Rognstad agreed that density is good in the larger context of Sandpoint’s housing affordability crunch.
“What we’re seeing here tonight is an example of the growth pressures that we’re seeing around the city,” he said, adding, “I understand that this is just an inherent conflict that we face as a city … [but this project] goes a long way to finding that middle ground” between affordability and scale.
Rognstad also applauded the developer for accommodating neighbors’ concerns and, while noting that notions like “neighborhood character” and what it means to “blend” with that character are subjective, “I think this is definitely an improvement over what we’ve seen elsewhere in the city.”
Councilman Tom Eddy made the motion to send the CUP back to P&Z, stating “I just don’t feel comfortable approving that third story in this area.”
Councilmembers Bill Aitken and John Darling cast “aye” votes, while Deb Ruehle and Joel Aispuro voted “nay.”
“Change is hard but change is coming,” Ruehle said during deliberations. “If we all stand our ground too hard we’ll probably end up with something worse.”
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