It’s called the rule of law, not the rule of emotions

By Helen Newton
Reader Contributor

A lawyer friend once told me that property issues were a surefire money maker for any lawyer. “Kids and dirt,” he said. “Dirt and kids.” Seldom does either side end up 100% happy, but the lawyers get paid regardless of the outcome. 

Change is inevitable. Do you hear that as often as I do? That may be, we say to ourselves, but what happens when we don’t like the changes? We’re likely to get cranky and maybe even try to change things back to the way they were before.

If you’ve lived in Bonner County for any time at all, you have come to realize that property disagreements are nothing new — especially when it comes to developers wanting to turn multiple acres of farmland or forest into high-density building sites. 

There is no one left now who experienced Sandpoint when the town was all on the east side of Sand Creek, but thanks to men like R.B. Himes, and later Ross Hall, we do have pictures of our fair city throughout the decades. In the earliest days, a foot bridge of logs and planks spanned the creek and when you crossed over to the west bank you were in forests. There were only trails. Once the town became established on the west side, the streets were narrow and either dusty or axle deep in mud, according to the season. As more people arrived, they watched Sandpoint grow and grow some more. Up to a point, this made residents (and certainly the chamber of commerce) happy, but attitudes began to shift.

As the population grew it became apparent that unmanaged growth created problems. Planning and zoning became a thing — and a constantly changing thing. Its place in our lives is intended to decide where growth is best suited to occur and, in the best of worlds, that is in close proximity to established townships.

I grew up on a 240-acre dairy farm on Colburn Culver Road in the 1940s and ’50s. Just like everyone here now, my parents moved to Bonner County from “somewhere else,” but they bought land, kept it a family operated farm and didn’t sell to someone who wanted to make changes. However, years passed and ultimately someone bought it who did want to make changes — or, at least, make money. The “bottom land” of our former farm is now part of a 700-acre parcel zoned for potential growth. The rest is dotted with at least a dozen homes sitting on 10 or 20 acres. 

By the 1950s, the chamber of commerce had really gone to work to attract tourists to the lake. When Schweitzer opened in the 1960s, word spread quickly that this was a desirable location to raise a family. Build it and they will come — and they have.

Sandpoint’s population fluctuated between the 1940 and 1980 censuses, but hovered right around 4,000 for five decades. It now stands at more than double that. We were discovered alright, and when you get marketed as one of the most beautiful small towns in America (or now the “coolest small town in Idaho”), things tend to change quickly.

In the 1950s, Sandpoint’s city limits were Baldy Road and Division. The “new” high school (now middle school) was “out in the county” on a dirt road. Plots of land that were meadows, hay fields or forests are now the Moran Addition, Northshore, Maplewood, Westwood, Mountain Meadows and Ponder Point. Dover Bay was a former mill site and Condo Del Sol a wetlands. And when we think about it, most of those developments have a one road ingress and egress. 

We had a picnic at the City Beach at my 10th class reunion in 1969. I remember sitting with classmates looking across at Bottle Bay Road. We pondered whether or not houses could ever be built there. We didn’t think so. We were wrong.

As long as there is a willing seller and an eager buyer, growth will continue. And NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) is always going to be a part of the process. Once we’ve found our piece of paradise, we don’t want to be disturbed. 

Private property rights are always a hot-button topic. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that those rights also apply to those who are developing property in our neighborhood and perhaps not in a way we like. It boils down to the laws: comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances. They require constant review to ensure that safety features and open space are key required elements in every new development. It’s difficult to accept changes when they’re happening in our backyards but elected officials must make their decisions based on current law, not on emotions. To do otherwise would lead to utter chaos.

As Pat Gooby wrote in a letter to the Bee on Oct. 1, “Want to stop development? It’s simple. Buy it.” Unfortunate but true. We have to be paying attention before proposals have reached the final decision stage. Vigilance is the key. Always vigilance. Let’s all be more vigilant in the coming new year.

Helen Newton served as Sandpoint city clerk for 24 years and was on the Sandpoint City Council for four years.

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.