By Zach Hagadone
Sandpoint City Hall has set a date for a town hall-style workshop on the revised Comprehensive Plan for Wednesday, Nov. 29, from 5-7 p.m. at the City Council Chambers (1123 Lake St.).
Councilors voted to table approval of the Comp Plan at their Oct. 4 meeting, which included several members of the public testifying that they felt under-informed about the specifics of the plan.
More information on the plan, including a draft and appendices, is available at sandpointidaho.gov under “Master Plans” or bit.ly/3OaBXxH.
City Planner Amy Tweeten told councilors at the Nov. 1 meeting that the plan would be made available for online commenting, which in the past has garnered a good response from residents, while both members of the City Council and staff would be available in person at the Nov. 29 workshop.
Councilor Justin Dick asked that a second workshop be held soon after the 29th, with a consensus seeming to favor Thursday, Dec. 7. More details on that will follow.
“This document’s too important for our community going forward,” he said.
Councilor Jason Welker agreed, and suggested that the Sandpoint Planning and Zoning Commission also be involved, as that body has been working closely with the Comp Plan revisions for the past four years.
“That’s just more ears listening to the community on that night,” he said, later adding, “What I’m emphasizing is quality over quantity at this point.”
Welker underscored that the Comp Plan update has been years in the making, and these workshops would not be the first efforts at public outreach. However, “As we’ve learned, when the public’s attention is on something, we really need to harness that,” he said.
Councilor Deb Ruehle suggested that workshop notices should be sent out with residents’ utility bills, and also said she would be open to employing door hangers to ensure the widest participation by the public. Council President Kate McAlister and Councilor Dick also said they’d be willing to undertake that as well.
Once the workshop — or workshops — are concluded, the council will enter another round of public hearings, with more opportunities for public involvement.
The Comp Plan has been described by officials as providing, “A vision for the future, defined goals and policies and desired future land use character.” The document is supposed to be updated every 10 years, but the current plan hasn’t been revised since 2009. An effort to put in place a new plan began in 2019, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 to 2022.
Council members had been primed to give their final approval on Oct. 4, but after listening to a presentation and taking testimony at the public hearing, opted to slow down and take steps to gather more community feedback.
“I feel like we’ve only had four days to dive into it,” Welker said at the time, while making the motion to table. “This is literally the most important planning document that we’re about to adopt for the next 20 years. … This shouldn’t be the last opportunity for public feedback.”
Among the elements of the Comp Plan revision highlighted at the Oct. 4 meeting were updates to objectives for urban forestry, neighborhood preservation and mixed-use development, housing affordability and coordinating water services with other jurisdictions.
The latter component gave councilors the most cause for pause in October, as it touches on a hot-button issue related to growth in less-dense parts of Sandpoint’s area of city impact.
Specifically, as council candidate Kyle Schreiber and mayoral candidate Jeremy Grimm both said at the time, the revised plan lacks language from the 2009 version that denied extension of urban services — such as water — to low-density developments, with the intention of discouraging urban-type sprawl into rural areas.
Schreiber highlighted the opposition to Sandpoint’s decision in the summer to provide city water services to the 117-lot Providence subdivision following nearby Kootenai’s refusal to do so, while Grimm underscored that providing urban services to rural developments encourages growth in areas that can’t be efficiently served.
While Welker suggested there’s a good reason for precluding that language from the revised plan, he also said that it’s an important enough issue that it needs to be further explored and explained with the public, otherwise “it’s going to come back to haunt us.”
Several other members of the public also stressed that the updated Comp Plan must address preservation of heritage trees — an issue that has been in the spotlight in recent months in connection with the removal of 20 mature trees at Travers Park to make way for the multi-million-dollar James E. Russell Sports Center, which will feature indoor pickleball and tennis courts.
Many city and county residents have mounted a passionate pushback to the sports center location, though crews felled the trees at Travers Park during the last week of October.
Welker said at the Nov. 1 meeting that heritage tree protections are part of the revised Comp Plan because about a half dozen citizens showed up to advocate for them — indicating that as an example that public input is valued and acted upon by city officials.
“It’s not too late to make amendments and changes to this Comp Plan, but it does require the community showing up and us listening,” Welker said.
Find more information on the plan, including a draft and appendices, at sandpointidaho.gov under “Master Plans” or bit.ly/3OaBXxH.
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