PONDERAY — Small town urbanism is popular among waterfront communities, but the majority of those who attended Monday's City Council meeting were not too keen on the idea of older Ponderay neighborhoods becoming densely populated.
The sub-area plan and code, which was presented to council Monday, could do just that — though it would be 30 years or more down the road in the making.
Tony Garcia of Street Plans Collaborative, lead consultant on the project, started working on the project in 2014 after city planning director Erik Brubaker received a $100,000 planning grant.
Garcia presented the proposed plan, which focused on opening up waterfront access, adding micro-housing as temporary to long-term structures in compact blocks, as well as redeveloping streets and sidewalks.
"This is illustrative," Garcia said. "This is a guide for you. It doesn't mean you have to follow this exactly, but it's a really good starting point."
During the planning process, Garcia said, community members were asked what they liked most about Ponderay. The number one answer was, "Ponderay is a small town." When asked what they would change, Garcia said the top answer was, "having lake access."
"That's your biggest asset," he said, referring to Lake Pend Oreille. "... If you can't get lake access, a lot of this is not going to happen ... you need to be able to provide that lake access to unlock all of the development potential here."
But Mayor Steve Geiger and the majority of council members were concerned that implementing 25-foot parcels of land with dense housing communities would take away from the small town feel that so many people enjoy about Ponderay.
"I'm not looking for any dramatic changes that would promote accelerated growth," Geiger said. "I'm a guy that likes things slow and moderate ... We need to be careful about the decisions we make today so we can make sure that things are done right."
Brubaker said his concern, as the region continues to see growth, is to create a framework for guided growth in the future of Ponderay. He agreed that accelerated growth would be too much too fast for many locals.
"Largely, I think of it as a 100-year plan," Brubaker said. "The original plan for Ponderay, we are still filling in lots that were platted 100 years ago."
Garcia said in 10 years, the city would barely see a fraction of what is in the proposed plan.
In the proposed plan, blocks would typically be no more than 400 feet, leading to more intersections, which, for whatever reason, create more walkability, Garcia said. Micro-housing can be put up right away in vacant lots for little cost, he said. A Katrina Cottage, for example, sells for about $40,000, but are very small. Some micro-housing is only 200-300 square feet. Typically, those dwellings transition to larger, single-family houses over a period of time.
Garcia also suggested building a new City Hall next to a park; something "elegant" that will stand the test of time.
The code Garcia introduced with the proposed plan is a "form-based code." Form-based codes are adopted by cities to regulate physical appearance and land development within an area. Where that code is silent, such as in lighting, landscaping and signs, the existing Ponderay Zoning Code would be relevant.
"One thing I want to reiterate about the code, right now as it's written, is we are not trying to make it difficult for people to do anything," Garcia said.
He said the code was designed to be simple. The code can be adjusted, he said, and does not require the city to implement the plan of adding compact blocks and micro-housing, but gives the option for future development.
While council members expressed concern over the dense housing and growth outlined in the plan, they agreed the code had some good qualities and would be a good first step toward Ponderay's future. It will continue to be discussed by council members as they iron out any wrinkles before any official action is taken.
A draft of the proposed Sub-Area Plan and Code can be found online at cityofponderay.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/PonderayCode_Draft_4-27-reduced.pdf.
Mary Malone can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.