Danger, Kootenai County, Danger!
Do you remember the old 60s TV show called "Lost in Space", where the robot would alert the family to possible threats by saying, "Danger, Will Robinson, Danger"? Well, we need some sort of alarm system in Kootenai County to alert us to possible dangers from mega-communities that want to drop, seemingly from space, into our pristine landscape.
These huge developments are called Master Planned Communities (MPCs). They are different than regular subdivisions because MPCs are fully planned before one shovel of dirt is turned. Subdivisions may have small parks and pathways, but MPCs are enormous and often have lakes, golf courses, large parks and trails. Additionally, they can include the shopping areas, restaurants, business centers, schools and fire stations as well. MPCs are often isolated from the main city, and might be considered as separate communities. But the truth is they are not separate.
The impacts from these MPCs hit every person in the county, especially here in Kootenai County. And that's where the danger lies. Our county does not have impact fees, which are required on new construction in many parts of the country. These fees help growth "pay for itself" by funding streets, parks, law enforcement, fire and often schools. So, in our neck of the woods, existing citizens can end up paying more to cover the impacts of these new, mega-communities.
Increased taxation is not the only threat. Our pristine natural environment, which defines us and sets us apart from other parts of the country, is at risk.
Let me assure you that I am not anti-growth, and not all MPCs are bad. Growth is not what I am addressing here, it's enormous, uncontrolled growth that overwhelms the infrastructure and changes forever the character of the locale. Rather than moving in to become a part of our North Idaho culture and lifestyle, some of these MPCs want to take over and redefine our existence. And they think they have the money to do it.
Personal property rights are very important to me, and to most Idahoans. We are a fiesty bunch that like to keep what we have and don't really want the government or anyone else telling us what to do. But even though these MPC developers have purchased huge parcels of land, it does not give them the right to build whatever they want.
Their property rights are those allowed under the zoning on the land they bought. Much of the outlying county is an agricultural zone which allows 1 home per 20 acres. If the developer wants something different, they have to ask. They do not have an automatic right to expect approval of their request. The developer must prove their proposal will not create negative impacts on the surrounding areas, the natural environment, the watershed, etc. If the impacts are found to be detrimental, the answer should be "No".
But money often clouds the issue. The promise of increased tax revenues and economic growth can sometimes sway officials. And the MPCs come with very experienced advisors and lawyers to help them beat the local systems.
That's why I was happy to see the recent decision in district court to uphold the County Commissioners' denial of the Chateau de Loire project. The judge stood firmly, in spite of heavy opposition from the developers. Judge Luster's written decision stated, "...the record contains evidence...regarding water service, disturbance of wetlands, runoff and erosion from steep slopes, transportation on Hwy 97...emergency services...and other matters. The record in this case was voluminous."
Yet the developer still threatens to appeal the decision. There's a lot of money at stake.
Our county must be prepared; our zoning ordinances must be ironclad. The MPCs are lining up and this challenge will not go away. There's "Danger, Kootenai County, Danger". If we don't want our North Idaho lifestyle lost in space, we must fortify our system and stand guard to protect it.
Dear Newsletter Readers,
The effects of growth, both positive and negative, have captured our attention here in Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls. But the rest of Kootenai County is dealing with the same question: How much is too much and how quickly can we absorb and adapt to growth without being overwhelmed? There are some David vs. Goliath matchups coming forward. Chateau was one of them. Now Powderhorn is taking on Harrison. The rest of us in the county need to be aware of these massive plans and make sure we give attention and support where it is needed. Stay tuned for more info coming soon. Have a great week. --Mary
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Mary Souza has been a concerned citizen
of CdA for over 20 years. She's a local small business owner,
former P&Z Commissioner
and wrote an opinion column in the CdA Press on local issues. Her
opinions are her own.
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