PL setback variances challenged

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SANDPOINT — A group of landowners at Priest Lake are suing to overturn a setback variance approved by Bonner County commissioners this summer.

Counsel for the landowners filed a petition for judicial review of the board’s variance approval. It was filed in 1st District Court on Sept. 18.

The board’s approval came despite a Bonner County Planning Department staff recommendation against approving the variance. The Bonner County Planning & Zoning Commission also denied the variance request, public records show.

The parcels involved in the variance requests are located off Thistledo Lane, at the northern end of the lake.

Stejer’s Inc. sought variance approval to have a 6-foot rear yard setback where a 25-foot setback is required. It also sought a 17-foot front yard setback variance which is also subject to a 25-foot setback requirement. On an adjoining parcel, the applicant also requested a 7-foot front yard setback.

Both parcels, which were created in 1967 and 1972, predated county subdivision and zoning standards, as did many of the surrounding parcels. The small lot sizes, in addition to a nearby wetland, result in tight building envelopes.

Those conditions worked in favor of the variance request, but working against it was the bootleg storage building, which was erected without proper permit approval in the 1990s, according to Planning Department records.

“If this structure had been permitted correctly in the 1990s, the issue of a tight building would have been mitigated by proper design,” Planner Marcus Pecnik said in the project’s staff report.

As a result, the applicant created a hardship was their own fault.

Neighboring landowners objected to the variance requests, arguing that they would bring additional density to a pair of already overcrowded lots and threaten water quality off the Lions Head unit of Priest Lake State Park.

“Currently, four dwellings exist on two adjacent lots owned by the Stejers where zoning rules say there would normally be just two. The septic drainfield for these lots is combined and located just a few feet above lake level and not many feet back from the lake front,” Thomas Hungate said in a letter opposing the variance requests.

Hungate is one of the petitioners in the suit. Also listed as petitioners are Frank Hungate, A&E Family LLC, Eleanor Jones and Ann Ashburn.

The suit alleges that the board’s decision is in error because it violates constitutional and statutory provisions. It further argues that the board surpassed its authority and made an arbitrary and capricious decision in granting the variances.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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