Planning commission recommends setback changes

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

The Bonner County Planning and Zoning Commission voted at a hearing June 4 to recommend changes to Title 12. The proposed amendments, which will have to be approved by the Bonner County Board of Commissioners before being finalized, redefines setbacks in an effort to provide clarity and mitigate frequent variance requests on small lots.

In Bonner County, setbacks are currently defined based on the types of “yards” on people’s properties: front, rear and side yard setbacks. Planning staff works with property owners to determine which is the front yard based on road location and property access in order to define setback requirements. The proposed ordinance change would eliminate these definitions.

“This can sometimes become confusing, as properties have roads on two or three sides or cutting through the property,” Planning Director Milton Ollerton told the Reader. “For example, we have defined properties as having three fronts and a side, or two fronts, a side and a rear.”

Ollerton said another difficulty — especially with smaller lots — is the requirement for 25-foot setbacks from both the rear and front yards. He said “placing a home on a lot that is only 70 feet deep can prove to be challenging.”

Ollerton said the proposed ordinance change is “a new thought on setbacks” in an effort to mitigate frequent variance requests.

“Instead of defining front, rear and side, the ordinance now will define setbacks from the property line and the street,” he said, adding that “street” is broadly defined to include anything from an easement to a highway. 

The proposed amendments would also change the current 25-foot rear and front yard set back rule to 25 feet against the street, and varying between five feet and 25 feet from the property line, depending on which zone the property is located in, Ollerton said. 

“This will help with lots that are smaller to now fit a structure without having to apply for a variance for setbacks,” he said.

Ollerton said that last year, the Planning and Zoning Commission heard 41 variance requests, while they’ve heard 24 in 2020 so far. He said most of these variances are requesting a decrease in setbacks, and the proposed changes “will likely address many of the variance requests that are coming in as folks are trying to fit their homes on their property.”

“If you have a code that’s creating lots of variances, then there’s a problem with the code and you need to update it,” Ollerton said to the planning commission during the June 4 meeting. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Ollerton told the Reader that the planning commission “understand[s] the challenges that occur with building on lots that were created under old zoning ordinances and [is] trying to navigate those in the most efficient manner.”

“The code change does allow the structures to move closer to the back property line, and it does attempt to continue to protect the property line against a street for snow removal and off-street parking,” he said.

The county commissioners are tentatively scheduled to take up the proposed changes at a hearing on Tuesday, July 14. When an official date and time are set, they will be posted at

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