By Zach Hagadone
The Sandpoint Urban Renewal Agency took its first step toward the eventual redevelopment of the downtown Sandpoint parking lot, approving a memorandum of understanding with City Hall at its regular Dec. 6 meeting.
Sandpoint city councilors already approved the MOU at their Nov. 16 meeting, with the document establishing a framework for how the agency and city will collaborate on the project, which envisions a potential mixed-use development with additional parking.
Under the terms of the agreement, a steering committee will be assembled with representation from the agency and city to jointly agree on the terms of a request for proposals. The committee would then review the proposals and offer a recommendation to the agency’s board of commissioners, which would ultimately select the developer.
The chosen developer would then enter into an agreement with SURA, after which the final details of the project would be hammered out, followed by confirmation of the financing and going through the permitting process.
With all that accomplished, the city would convey the property to the agency, which would then almost simultaneously pass it on to the developer to begin construction.
“Certainly there’s a lot of details to be developed,” said Meghan Conrad, of Boise law firm Elam & Burke, which serves as legal counsel to the urban renewal agency board.
However, early indications are that it’s going to be a quick process — 12 months having been set aside to get through the RFP and selection process.
“Having a 12-month timeframe does require everyone to move expeditiously through the project,” she said, though added that the date could be extended.
“There’s a lot of moving parts with this and there’s definitely more to come in pretty short order,” she added.
An extended morning meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 8, at which SURA Board Chairman Eric Paull and Commissioner Kendon Perry will represent the agency on the steering committee.
Paull emphasized that the parking lot project is currently at “ground zero,” though it has been in the works — at least conceptually — for a long time.
“We talked about it 10-12 years ago, but we didn’t get very far off the ground with it, but it was in discussion at one time that urban renewal would take the city parking lot, work with a developer and transfer the property, so we’re kind of picking it up — starting over again, if you will,” he said.
Conrad agreed that “we’re at the ground floor,” with much of the details to be determined by the steering committee.
“You really have the opportunity to set the parameters of what the community would like to see developed at that site,” she said, prompting SURA Commissioner Marilyn Sabella to ask: “What about public input on this? Will there be an opportunity for citizens to make their interests known?”
Conrad said she didn’t yet have an answer to that, pending what the consultants on the project may have planned.
“Sometimes these types of projects have a robust public outreach component to them, sometimes they don’t,” she said.
“In terms of moving a project forward, certainly the project has to comply with all city planning and zoning requirements,” she added, though if the project is already acceptable under the relevant planning documents, “that does somewhat limit the public opportunity.”
One member of the public had their say at the Dec. 6 meeting, testifying that the parking lot redevelopment is “a solution in search of a problem.”
Citing a recent parking study presented by the city of Sandpoint, resident Kyle Schreiber testified, “We already own the parking lot, we don’t need additional parking and there’s no reason that we should lose taxpayer money on this project to provide something that we don’t need.”
What’s more, he doubted the need to increase the amount of commercial property downtown — noting that a number of “blighted properties” already exist around downtown, and adding more square footage to that sector would actually disincentivize redevelopment elsewhere.
“It doesn’t seem fiscally responsible for a public agency to dispose of a prime piece of real estate and then sell or lease it back from a developer at a premium,” Schreiber added, ultimately asking that the project be tabled “until an actual need exists.”
Members of the SURA board voted unanimously to approve the MOU.
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