There's a big hubbub brewing out near Hayden Lake. Plans for a five story condo building on the Tobler's Marina property have the neighbors up in a twist. And they offer some valid concerns.
Legal letters have been flying back and forth and the file at the County Planning Department is getting thicker by the day. The central issue seems to be setbacks, which are the distances from the property lines to the allowable building site. Part of the problem is where to start measuring: From the middle of the roadway? Or from the edge of the lake?
It may sound silly but such issues can mean the difference between a successful condo project or not; they can protect an established neighborhood or not.
At the bottom of this controversy are the ordinances. These are the laws that establish the rules of the game. Land use ordinances for the county or cities are the basis of most development decisions.
Many people have heard of comprehensive plans. The county and each of the cities have their own, which describe how they intend to progress in the future. While comp plans are the overall vision, they don't have much weight in the legal system. They are supposed to be backed by clear, specific ordinances which describe the regulations in detail. That's how most legal issues are resolved.
Ordinances are boring, nerdy requirements that don't get much attention. They are not flashy. Officials don't point to them with a flourish and excitedly announce, "We have updated our ordinances. What great leaders are we!" But they should. Ordinances are that important.
The reality is that ordinances are often quite low on the "to do" list. They are tedious for county or city staff to update, and to hire an expert can cost tens of thousands of dollars, just for one ordinance. So, as you might guess, they get pushed to the back burner.
When I was on CdA's Planning and Zoning Commission, year after year we begged, pleaded and pushed for ordinance updates. Those that were finally approved and funded by city council were often too late. The wave of development was upon us and you can't change the rules after someone's already in the game.
You might think that developers are against ordinance updates, but that's not necessarily true. Well-known developer Marshal Chesrown told the CdA Rotary club he would rather have clear, understandable ordinances up front so he can factor in the cost of regulations and not have any surprises down the road.
Surprises can be expensive and the legal fight looming over the Hayden Lake condos will cost both sides some serious money. The county now has a new condominium ordinance written, but it might be too late to clarify the current Hayden controversy.
There could, however, be a silver lining in our local economic down turn. It could give our county and cities time to retool for the future. Planning and legal staffs are not as busy and could review and update their own ordinances. We all know another round of development is on the horizon. Let's prepare now so we can play the game on stonger terms when the wave hits again.