‘Whose workforce?’

P&Z recommends approval for ‘Boyer Meadows’ subdivision despite concerns

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

A proposed 21-lot subdivision on the west side of North Boyer Avenue received a recommendation of approval from Sandpoint Planning and Zoning commissioners Aug. 17 and is now headed to the City Council for a final decision. However, commissioners raised a number of questions and concerns about the development, including its aesthetics, connections with pedestrian and bicycle pathways, proximity to the airport, qualification as “affordable” or “workforce” housing, and its compliance with the city’s comprehensive land use plan.

The project is dubbed Boyer Meadows by Coeur d’Alene-based developer Cliff Mort of Big Creek Land Company, whose Monogram Homes would build the project, and sits on an 8.5-acre parcel of land split-zoned between industrial technical park to the west and single family residential to the east. 

In many ways, the project typified the juggling act Sandpoint city officials, citizens and developers must undertake to help alleviate the area’s crushing housing affordability crisis.

The industrial-zoned portion of the parcel — about half of which is within the airport’s lateral safety zone, prompting opposition testimony from neighboring Timberline Helicopters on noise complaints — will so far remain undeveloped while the residential portion, bounded by East Mountain View Road to the south and North Boyer to the east, is envisioned to include lots ranging in size from 6,700 to 8,200 square feet. Those lots, according to the developer’s representative, Jeremy Grimm of Whiskey Rock Planning and Consulting, are 40% larger than the minimum required for single family residential zoning code.

It will feature a 580-foot-long street running north-south from East Mountain View Drive, ending in a cul de sac. Its eastern boundary along North Boyer will be double frontage lots fenced or screened from the street with no driveways or other access points.

Interim City Planner Daren Fluke highlighted the project’s inconsistency with the comp at the top of his staff report to commissioners, focusing specifically on its planned cul de sac.

“Generally the comprehensive plan would not support a cul de sac or dead end-type road,” he said. “However, in this situation we did feel it was appropriate.”

City staff said that code won’t allow any direct access points to North Boyer for the development because of setback requirements for already existing driveways and intersections. Even if it was possible, it would only add to the rapidly increasing traffic load on North Boyer, which will get even heavier with the nearby University Place development, located just to the southeast. 

Commissioner Tom Riggs was unconvinced, and expressed some frustration that, “too often development projects come to us that are not consistent with the comprehensive plan and we tend to gloss over them. This is not consistent with the comp plan.”

Riggs was the sole dissenting vote recommending approval by the City Council.

Though both city staff and Riggs directly stated that the plan doesn’t meet certain criteria of the comp plan, ultimately the need for more affordable housing stock outweighed the concerns. Yet, Boyer Meadows homes will likely cost between $400,000 and $500,000 — complete with two-car garages — prompting P&Z Commission Chairman Jason Welker to ask the developer, “Is there any intent to make this workforce housing, by the definition of workforce housing?”

By that, Welker meant pegging pricing to a proportion of average monthly income or area median income — the latter which in Sandpoint is about $60,000 per year, which would put a buyer in a home priced at about $250,000. The current median list price for a home in Sandpoint, according to various sources, ranges from a little more than $400,000 to nearly $750,000.

“It’s always a misnomer to talk about workforce housing,” said Mort. “It’s whose workforce?”

Mort serves on Mayor Shelby Rognstad’s Sandpoint Workforce Housing Task Force, which convened for the first time Aug. 10. 

He said his company has tried for years to enter the Sandpoint market with a sizable project, though has already built some homes near the airport and along Sand Creek, as well as 50 lots in a Ponderay subdivision and homes in the Whiskeyjack area. However, city ordinances limiting things like garage size and orientation, specifically, get in the way of providing developers with the flexibility to build homes in service of the so-called “missing middle” of home buyers, Mort said. 

“It’s just been real difficult to try to create what I would say is ‘moderate housing,’” he said. “It’s not all the cheapest housing in the area but certainly we try to do an entry point, workforce housing — we’ve built homes up into the multi-million range. … I would think that having housing in that $400,000-$500,000 range certainly is something that does fit a lot of the owners in Sandpoint.”

Grimm, a former Sandpoint city planner who also represents the developers of the University Place project and serves on the Sandpoint Workforce Housing Task Force, as well, pointed out that lack of inventory contributes greatly to the current astronomical prices. In such a climate, adding 20 or more homes is a solution.

To that, Welker countered that the lot sizes in Boyer Meadows could accommodate more housing if the proposed garage sizes were reduced and the developer incorporated accessory dwelling units, which under recently adopted code can be up to 900 square feet and used as housing rather than vacation rentals.

“On 4.5 acres in Sandpoint you could probably provide at least double what this development is,” he said.

Mort and Grimm addressed commission members’ worries in turn:

“People love cul de sacs,” Mort said. “Families love them, people congregate in them, all of those types of things.”

He also balked at the suggestion of adding a pedestrian/bikeway from North Boyer into the subdivision, citing “safety” and said that “most families want a two-car garage.”

“I live on a cul de sac; I find it quite peaceful — you don’t have a lot of cut-through traffic,” Grimm said.

“I’d much rather hear an airplane go by than a train going by at two in the morning,” said Mort, who added that he’s been a private pilot for more than 20 years.

“It’s Sandpoint. It’s not a quiet place — that’s for sure,” said Grimm, referring to train noise, which can range from 140 to 150 decibels, compared to the 105- to 140-decibel level cited by a Timberline Helicopter representative. 

“Maybe this subdivision will attract airplane aficionados,” Grimm said, later adding, “Our point is that it’s zoned residential single-family.”

A majority of commissioners voted to look past their various concerns — even Riggs, despite his nay vote, said, “The horse is out of the barn on Boyer; there’s every kind of fence imaginable” — and decided that Boyer Meadows is “consistent with the overall goals of the comprehensive plan,” though with certain conditions such as a putting an airport noise warning on the front of the plat.

“The development is going to provide some much-needed housing in Sandpoint,” Welker said in his motion to recommend approval.

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