Sandpoint P&Z recommends approval of rezone, PUD plan for University Place Phase 4

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

The fourth phase of the University Place development went before the Sandpoint Planning and Zoning Commission at its regular meeting Sept. 20, with commissioners voting unanimously to recommend approval of a rezone from residential single-family to multi-family, a combined planned unit development preliminary and final development plan, and an amended preliminary plat. 

University Place is the 75.2-acre housing development along the east side of North Boyer Avenue, with its fourth phase being the 14.5-acre southern portion, located to the east of the intersection of Ebbett Way and North Boyer and west of Sand Creek, with its southernmost boundary running along the railroad tracks. That section would include 101 single-family townhomes, seven duplexes and 112 apartments, totaling 227 dwelling units.

The rezone from single-family to multi-family residential was intended to bring the project more in line with the future Comprehensive Plan Land Use Map, which envisions a mix of housing types and higher density on the property. 

Renderings of what units might look like at the University Place development. Left: 3-plex townhome “Traditional”; center: 6-plex townhome “Contemporary Farmhouse” and right: 6-plex townhome “Traditional.” Courtesy photos.

The PUD development plan included “numerous deviations” from the residential multi-family district, according to the city staff report, including housing units with more than 50% of their frontage taken up by garages, as well as side- rather than street-facing entrances. Building heights would also exceed the 40-foot limitation for multi-family in the current code, with the townhomes planned for 45 feet and four four-story apartment buildings rising to 48 feet. The plan also proposed smaller lot sizes for the townhomes — reduced to between 1,118 and 1,523 square feet from the 3,500-square-foot standard in the RM zone, and widths reduced by up to five feet from the current 25-foot standard. 

The development would eliminate or reduce setbacks — allowing garages and housing frontages to come right up to street surfaces — and increase the amount of impervious areas (structures and pavement) by 20%, accommodating 210 parking spaces around the apartments, which is 88% more than the RM standard of 141. Total open space amounts to 8.3% of the development, whereas code stipulates a minimum of 10%.

“A PUD is a give and take, and it is that they are asking for waivers for a certain type of development that would perhaps not happen under current zoning,” City Planner Amy Tweeten said. “The commission must evaluate whether these requested deviations … warrant that tradeoff of giving some deviations to the standard zoning.”

Developer Derek Mulgrew, of M&W Holdings, told the commission that the requested deviations came after feedback from a P&Z meeting about a year and a half ago, asking that this phase of University Place not be “a community that’s just cordoned off.”

The development plan included minimum rear yard setbacks on North Boyer of between zero and 14.3 feet, while the standard is 15 feet. 

“The idea was to develop a community that faced outward and was appealing for people to traverse through,” he said.

Mulgrew touted the integrated design and engineering of the mixed-use development, led by Williams Homes, which includes increasing density from north to south, ranging from fee-simple ownership to rentals, the latter which he said he’d hold for himself. Mulgrew described the townhomes, which are designed as three-, five- and six-plexes, as appealing to empty-nesters, retirees and first-time homebuyers; the duplexes geared toward families relocating to the area but not ready to buy; and the apartments intended for workforce housing.

“I put a lot more into this up front,” he said, referring to the design and engineering. “What I want to portray to you all is that that’s a tremendous investment — it’s a lot of risk.”

“I felt that there was a need to address a product that could be more efficiently built and meet a different price point and fill a housing need in a fee-simple townhome purchase and also a rental environment,” he added.

Commissioners keyed in on the notion of “workforce housing,” repeatedly asking Mulgrew to indicate just how accessible the rental units would be to local workers.

“I don’t use the term ‘affordable housing’ because it seems like nothing is affordable anymore,” he said. “I couldn’t probably give you an accurate representation, but the intent is for it to be as economically accessible as possible.”

Commissioner Slate Kamp asked, “Can someone who makes $35,000, $45,000 a year, can they afford a place in this development?”

“If they’re renting anything here, we would be competitive with that,” Mulgrew responded.

Commissioner Amelia Boyd continued on the question of affordability, noting that the apartments range between 610 and 995 square feet, making them comparable in size to many accessory dwelling units in Sandpoint, which typically rent for between $1,400 and $1,500 a month.

“[W]ould that be something reasonable in terms of an amount?” she asked.

“For the small ones, yeah,” Mulgrew said. “We’re going to have to be market competitive. We’ve taken into consideration as much as we can … to keep the costs down.”

That issue came up regarding the noise coming from the railroad tracks. Among the conditions for approval fronted by city staff was the use of sound mitigation materials for the apartments, which Mulgrew said would add to the cost of construction and therefore rental prices. Rather, he pointed to the “sound attenuation berm” — essentially a large pile of dirt — along the southern property line, as sufficient to block the bulk of the noise from passing trains.

“A berm is nice, but it does not alleviate the sound,” Boyd said. “Personally, I think it’s a right call to require that sound-proofing for those families, because that’s what it’s going to be in those apartments.”

Staff also recommended the 10% minimum open space requirement as a condition of approval. Commissioners agreed, and added further conditions that an 8,000-square-foot playground/park be expanded with the removal or relocation of a garage facility, as well as extending a linear park pathway along the northern property line to connect with North Boyer.

Robert Osborn, who lives near the project, was the only member of the public to testify during the hearing, identifying himself as “neutral.”

“I understand that the project has been split into three separate projects; however, when you approved this, the dialogue was really nothing remotely similar to what we’re ending up with,” he said, referring to the entire University Place development, including the subdivision to the north of Phase 4.

Specifically, he reminded the commission of repeated past assertions by developers that University Place would be an explicitly green community with agricultural components — including opportunities for food production — as well as prioritizing wildlife corridors and conservation efforts.

“This kind of dialogue goes on and on, and the result of what we have so far is nothing extraordinary. We have a row of six houses on Mountain View Drive … [and] no opportunity to grow a strawberry plant, let alone a sustainable community of food production,” he said. “None of these things that have been promised have come to fruition.”

Standing in for Commission Chair John Hastings, who was absent, Vice-Chair Mose Dunkel said the project will “fill some need on some level for a lot of people. Apartments are the closest thing we have to affordable housing.” 

However, he added, “I’ve grown up here and that property has sat there, and a lot of people have strong feelings about what it was and what it should have been — and I share some of those — [but] the land that is in our city limits need to be available for people to live.”

With the commission’s unanimous vote to recommend approval, the rezone, PUD development plan and preliminary plat amendment now go to the City Council.

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