By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
A minor land division applied for by the Bonner County planning director saw major modification on Sept. 21, with county commissioners approving a change from a four-lot split to a two-lot split, and neighbors to the property expressing both gratitude and concern at the outcome.
In June, before being hired as Bonner County’s new planning director, Jacob Gabell applied for an MLD — known as the Wood View Acres MLD — to split his private 6.27 acres into four: one 3.49-acre lot, one 1.06-acre lot and two one-acre lots. The proposal prompted vocal pushback from Wood View Road neighbors, who took issue with the county interpreting “urban services” as “publicly or privately maintained water supply and distribution systems,” allowing for Gabell to drill a single well to service all three of the smaller lots.
Neighbors appealed the decision and, in August, Bonner County commissioners upheld their original approval of the MLD. While MLDs are typically approved administratively by the planning director, Gabell’s position as both director and applicant dictated that the file go before the board.
On Sept. 21, commissioners approved a modified version of Gabell’s MLD which requested splitting the parcel into two — one 3.49-acre lot and one 3,08-acre lot — rather than the original four.
“After receiving the initial approval last month, I contracted with some outside sources to help meet the conditions of approval that were outlined by the staff. After receiving some reports back and doing my own personal analysis on it, I didn’t feel I could meet the conditions in a timely manner for myself, so I decided to apply for this modification,” Gabell said, adding later: “It shifts, a little bit, my goals for the property, but I think I can make it work.”
Elizabeth Iha, who represented the Wood View Road appellents during the August hearing, said on Sept. 21 that she was “grateful” for the modification to the file, but that “there are still issues to discuss.” She said Gabell’s decision to amend his MLD came just two days after her group filed a reconsideration request for the board’s second approval, “along with $330 to do so.”
“Because of this, I sent an email to the Planning Department on Sept. 16 asking if we were eligible for a refund, since the application would not be going to judicial review,” she said. “I have received no reply.”
Commissioner Dan McDonald interrupted Iha’s comments to tell her that if she couldn’t keep her remarks related to the modified file before the board, he would “ask [her] to sit down.” When she continued, he said: “Now you’re out of order. You have a choice: you can sit down or you can leave.”
“What we’re tasked with, and what the law states, is that you can talk about the application,” added Commissioner Jeff Connolly.” We can’t get off on all kinds of different things. It really doesn’t matter. I’d be happy to have this conversation with you outside of this meeting about whether or not you should have a refund or not. I think there’s a validity to it.”
Reg Crawford, of land use watchdog nonprofit Project 7B, addressed the “many flaws within the MLD process.”
“Mr. Gabell’s failure to acknowledge that this split-well-as-urban-water [scenario] is not consistent with the code, and the fact that he will be in the unique position of administratively approving other MLDs which may try to use this same erroneous interpretation — that’s problematic,” she said.
McDonald warned Crawford to “stick to the file,” after which she concluded her remarks.
“I appreciate all the neighbors who opposed the file, because they were berated and ignored and denied due process, as they were again today when they were speaking,” she said. “I hope this board considers making changes that return transparency and integrity to land use here in Bonner County.”
Asked Sept. 26 whether his neighbors’ reconsideration request played any part in his decision to alter his minor land division from four lots to two, Gabell told the Reader, “no.”
“I’d already contacted my surveyor to combine the lots when that reconsideration request came in,” he said.
Iha told the Reader Sept. 28 that she had yet to receive a reply to her original email to the Planning Department inquiring about a refund. She said she spoke with Gabell following the Sept. 21 hearing, during which he told her that a refund would only be possible if the reconsideration request was withdrawn. Iha and the other neighbors involved have not yet decided if they will do that.
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