Follow the community’s vision on university property

By Jeremy Grimm
Reader Contributor

Sandpoint has a historic opportunity to make sure the University of Idaho property on North Boyer Avenue remains a community asset that is open and accessible to the public.

Donated by the Humbird Lumber Company nearly a century ago, the 75-acre parcel is the largest undeveloped property close to downtown. Since the university research center closed in 2010, Sandpoint area residents have found creative ways to use this open space for recreation and events — from cross-country skiing to cyclocross — and to build the bonds of community.

Earlier this year, the University announced that it would sell the Boyer parcel. Although we don’t know what will happen to the property, this change will impact the character and community of Sandpoint for generations to come.

To help shape future development, the city of Sandpoint is updating the Comprehensive Plan for the parcel and surrounding areas, with the goal of putting new guidelines in place by the time the university plans to sell the land in 2018. During a series of workshops this fall, participants from all walks of life discussed how the site might be developed with a mix of housing, commercial and agricultural uses, parks and recreation.

This planning process is an important start — and I’m hopeful that Sandpoint area residents will share their feedback at upcoming meetings and online — but we need to recognize the limits of this path. Comprehensive Plan and Zoning changes alone won’t protect what we love about the Boyer property. Let’s consider for a moment if the property were to be sold to a private buyer; how are we to ensure that the community’s vision is truly represented in the final development of the site?

Alternatively, if successful in their aspirations to secure funding to purchase the land, the city might be better positioned to activate the property based on the feedback and insight gathered from the community. Albeit a truncated timeline, it may be possible for the city to raise the funds needed to buy the property and more precisely guide its future use.

At LOR, it is our mission to partner with rural communities in the Intermountain West to improve livability and quality of life. Since 2013, LOR has worked with nonprofit organizations and engaged with the Bonner County community to support its vision through transportation options that keep our communities connected, expanding trails and improving public access to Lake Pend Oreille, supporting local economic development, and ensuring access to safe, clean drinking water.

In continuing our engagement with the community, the Foundation has invited city representatives to make a presentation in March 2018 to the LOR team, when the foundation will consider a request for financial support toward purchasing the property. Consistent with our approach to community driven solutions, our team is interested in a long-term and sustainable vision for the property that has been shaped by extensive community engagement. LOR is looking forward to understanding the city’s plan and its reflection of the input gathered from a broad cross-section of Sandpoint area residents. We understand that the development of such a plan will require the consideration and balancing of a diverse set of views, aimed to meet a range of community needs, and be financially viable into the future.

Acquiring the University of Idaho property is a multifaceted process that depends on many factors, including adequate fundraising and approval from the university and the state. LOR is looking forward  to hearing from the city, on behalf of the community, on its plans for activating this historic property.

Jeremy Grimm is a program officer at the LOR Foundation based in Sandpoint and previously served as the Sandpoint planning and community development director 2007-15.

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