By Reader Staff
Keep Bonner County Rural, a newly formed group of citizens dedicated to following land use issues in the county, has filed an application to amend the county’s land use code “in an effort to help protect the rural character of the county,” according to a Nov. 24 media release.
According to KBCR, the proposed amendment would “create stricter standards for justifying changes to current zoning” and “slow the flurry of zone changes that have been approved in recent months, which has led to increased density and development in the county’s rural areas.”
“We want to make it harder for developers to destroy our rural way of life,” said Dave Bowman, chairman of Keep Bonner County Rural and a Selle Valley property owner. “We are not calling for a moratorium or shutting the door on growth, but we do want to close the floodgates.”
KBCR formed in response to what the group calls “a huge uptick in zone change applications — and the near universal approval by Bonner County commissioners — that many residents fear will undermine their rural quality of life.” The proposed amendment aims to preserve the current zoning designations, which have been in place about 15 years or longer.
“When someone applies for a zone change, it nearly always increases density,” KBCR stated in its media release. “Zone changes do not require a land use study to examine the impacts on natural resources, traffic, schools or neighboring landowners, even though zone changes often lead to developers subdividing and selling off parcels.
“In several cases, the county not only changed zoning but also amended the county’s Comprehensive Land Use plan, changing the land use designation, to accommodate developers’ desires,” the release continues.
According to the group’s research, Bonner County commissioners have approved zone changes on more than 2,800 acres in the county in the past two years, the majority of which increased density in rural areas, according to public records collected by KBCR and fellow citizen group Project 7B.
“Meanwhile, in just the past year nearly 190 Minor Land Divisions have been applied for, and nearly all have been approved, resulting in the creation of 380 to 760 new buildable lots without any advance public notice or input,” KBCR states.
According to Bowman, “the combination of rubber-stamping spot zoning and the administrative approval of subdivisions is creating an unsustainable pace of development in our county. The level of public services and the quality of our natural resources are going to suffer as a result.”
Zone change requests first go through the Planning and Zoning Commission, which makes a recommendation to the County Commissioners. Members of KBCR applauded the planning and zoning commission for recommending denial of a recent request in the Selle Valley to double the density of 714 acres next to Northside Elementary School.
“We are grateful that the [P&Z Commission] listened with open minds to the dozens of people who shared their very real concerns about adding 70 or more homes in that area,” said longtime Selle Valley resident and KBCR member Betty Anderson, “but we don’t really trust that the county commissioners will follow their recommendation — or the goals and objectives of our county’s land use plan. That’s why this code amendment is needed.”
Bowman said that the county has ample property zoned for 5-acres or less, and so it is not necessary to divide up larger properties to accommodate growth.
“We don’t have a problem with property owners subdividing and selling their properties, as long as it meets current zoning density,” Bowman said. “That allows them to exercise their private property rights, while also protecting the property rights of people who have lived here for decades, or who moved here and have invested in this rural way of life.”
As of Nov. 24, KBCR shared that the county has yet to set a hearing date for the proposed code amendment.
In addition, members of KBCR are collecting signatures on a petition to support their efforts to protect the county’s rural quality of life. The petition is online at change.org/keepbonnercountyrural.
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