Sandpoint City Council looks at Sand Creek waterfront code change

Funds allocated for resort city lobbyist, workforce housing consulting

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Top City Hall staff joined with members of the City Council, Planning and Zoning Commission and the public for a workshop Feb. 16 focused on a proposed code amendment related to redevelopment along the west bank of Sand Creek.

Attendees gathered on Bridge Street adjacent to the Farmin’s Landing property, which the city acquired in 2015 with the purpose of putting in place improved stormwater treatment features, to take in a presentation on the code amendment from Sandpoint Infrastructure and Development Director Amanda Wilson.

City of Sandpoint staff and elected officials meet with the public to discuss changes coming to Sand Creek along First Avenue. Photo by Zach Hagadone.

Wilson said the rule change is necessary in order to accomplish the goals of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which in addition to stormwater treatment also envisions a number of amenities to improve public access along the waterfront.

At issue is the current code’s prohibition of structures within 25 feet of the artificial high water mark on Sand Creek, defined as 2,062.5 feet — or, as longtime locals might better know it, full summer pool. City staff, taking into account public feedback and in collaboration with groups including the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, are proposing eliminating that prohibition for “structures,” though not buildings. 

According to Wilson’s explanation, that means a patio, for instance, would be allowed within the 25-foot creekside buffer but a deck — which requires a building permit — would not be allowed. That includes anything built into the creek, as she clarified that the amendment would not give free reign for neighboring property owners to cantilever projects over the water. However, if a project proposed within the 25-foot setback or with designs on extending into the creek were to surface, it would be subject to a conditional use permit and review by state and federal agencies, making it a high hurdle.

“At no point was this code change about allowing private development to build into the creek,” she said. “That was in no way, shape or form how this started.”

Structures would be subject to a higher standard of review if proposed within the 25-foot buffer and public art installations would be allowed, provided they aren’t too big.

Among the biggest changes to the code amendment, compared to how it had been presented in September 2021, is a new condition that no ground disturbance along the creek would be allowed without a permit. What’s more, Wilson said later at the Feb. 16 regular meeting of the Sandpoint City Council, the city would take the hitherto unusual step of informing relevant state and federal authorities of any building permits in the Sand Creek area.

“Before you touch anything [along Sand Creek], you really need to get in touch with the city,” she said.

City Council members unanimously voted to schedule a public hearing on the code amendment, which City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton told the Reader would occur on Wednesday, March 16.

In an email to the Reader, Stapleton also said that, “Real estate transactions have occurred east of First Avenue over the past year; however, no applications for development have been received by the city at this time with the exception of the old Arlo’s building.”

Looking farther north on First Avenue, Stapleton added that “it is possible that we may see properties changing hands and potential redevelopments in the near future.

“The city anticipates initial site improvements at Bridge and First beginning this spring for a mixed-use development,” she said, “as well as an application for a similar development at the current location of Zero Point and A&P’s.”

Also on the City Council’s agenda Feb. 16 was a memorandum of understanding with the city of Ketchum to hire a lobbyist who would focus on issues related to resort cities at the Idaho Legislature. 

Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad first presented the idea at the beginning of the year, arguing that amenity-rich communities such as Sandpoint and Ketchum would benefit from having a dedicated presence at the Statehouse.

“It’s great to have some professional eyes on the ball,” he said.

Council members voted unanimously to allocate $1,000 toward the $25,000 contract with consulting firm Sullivan and Reberger, which would also be borne by other participating resort cities around the state.

“I think it’s a great value,” Rognstad said.

The mayor also said that $10,700 would be redirected from the Bonner Regional Team to his workforce housing initiative, which began working on solutions to the residential affordability crisis in Sandpoint last year. 

That money, in addition to funding from Blue Cross of Idaho, would go toward consultant services.

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