Russell Riberich is a city councilman in Harrison. The 270 citizens of this quaint Idaho town are staring down the barrel of an enormous land use decision that could forever change their lifestyle, but Riberich sent every person a letter pushing them to hurry, hurry, hurry -- a bit like an ambush.
Harrison is being told to quickly decide on the annexation of the gigantic Powderhorn development, which plans to build 1,300 homes and several golf courses in a separate area. It's one of the master planned communities (MPC) I wrote about two weeks ago.
As I wrote in that article, "... not all MPCs are bad ... 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."
Developers do not have an automatic right to zone changes on their property -- they have to ask the local government. Powderhorn is in the county, but it appears it wants to avoid our County Commissioners. Developers have probably watched the recent denial of Chateau de Loire and are aware of the organized citizens who have testified about roadways, water protection, erosion and other serious negative impacts from massive developments -- so Powderhorn is taking a different aim.
This proposed 1,300-home community is asking little 270-person Harrison to annex it into their town. Powderhorn doesn't even touch Harrison -- it doesn't fit the usual rules for annexation. No matter. Powderhorn has lots of money and they are offering to help Harrison, but the very scary part of this story is that they have now helped tiny Harrison start its own urban renewal agency. Yes, Harrison has its own LCDC with a different name. And, of course, the new urban renewal district will include the Powderhorn development.
In his letter to the town, Riberich came darn close to outright lies. He wrote, "The Idaho State Legislature has consistently tried to remove all or portions of urban renewal agencies from the state code." That's false. He noted, "During the last legislative session urban renewal was saved by only a handful of votes." Not true. And he penned, "The chances are very good that the legislation that governs URAs will be changed next year, potentially removing the tool from consideration by Harrison." No way.
Here's the straight truth: A small handful of citizens have tried to get the state to fix some obvious loopholes in the urban renewal laws, but with little success. Their goal has never been to do away with URAs entirely. (Though with the actions of LCDC and now this Harrison takeover, maybe it's not a bad idea.) The urban renewal agencies use taxpayer money to hire lobbyists in Boise to pressure lawmakers to keep the 1960s urban renewal laws just the way they are -- vague and outdated.
Riberich wields these untruths, plus the promise of big money, to try railroading a quick decision. He writes that even if the people don't like the Powderhorn development, it's the "only developing area that can bring forth the essential revenue ... in excess of $31 million." He goes on to claim that the town would be "guaranteed" this money. Hogwash.
What the people of Harrison really need to know is that any money from the urban renewal district, including Powderhorn, will go directly to the URA for 24 years. Harrison city officials will not have the new money in their budget until the year 2032.
But maybe it won't matter. By that time the town will probably be called Powderhorn and all the current residents will have been forced out by exorbitant property taxes. Be careful what you set in your sights, it could backfire.