P&Z changes strafed in workshop

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SANDPOINT — Proposed changes to Bonner County’s subdivision ordinance were assailed Thursday as a needless leap backward in local land use planning.

“The ‘minor land division’ section of the proposed subdivision ordinance sets Bonner County back nearly 40 years to the time when plats constituted nothing more than a survey, resulting in substandard roads and unbuildable lots,” said Marty Taylor, a private practice land use planner who served as Bonner County’s Planning Director for more than a decade.

Taylor’s remarks emerged during a workshop session conducted by the Bonner County Planning & Zoning Commission, which was asked to review the proposed changes, which include reviewing subdivisions resulting in four or fewer lots administratively rather subjecting them to public review and noticing requirements.

County commissioners directed the Planning Department to recast parts of the subdivision ordinance to make relatively simple divisions of land less costly and time consuming for landowners.

The county commission was poised to adopt the changes on its own, but it agreed to hold additional meetings on the changes and place it before P&Z for review.

The changes ran into heavy opposition during a public hearing in August, although some in the audience said they would welcome the changes if it made life easier for landowners.

The planning commission was initially bypassed when the code changes were first proposed. Planning Director Milton Ollerton said the county commission did not see the need to involve P&Z because the changes had no impact on existing zoning policy in Bonner County.

County officials in August cited an example where a landowner looking to cleave a 10-acre lot into two five-acre pieces spent $50,000 dividing his property. However, that sum is widely regarded as dubiously high.

P&Z Chairman Mitch Martin said that figure was tainting the process.

“We need to take that cost out of this equation,” said Martin.

Taylor estimated at that the actual cost of splitting that parcel could be as little as $5,000. Ollerton said the $50,000 sum included the installation of utilities to service the new parcels.

The code change was also meant to address improper divisions of land, particularly those done via recorded deed as opposed to the platting process. The Bonner County Recorder’s Office is required to record such deeds regardless of their accuracy or lack thereof.

As a result, some of those splits resulted in lots that were too small to be legally built upon.

More than 400 lots have been subdivided via recorded deed over the last two and half years, according to county officials.

However, Taylor said it’s unclear how many of those lots are actually nonconforming.

Taylor’s comments were cheered by several members of the public who took part in the workshop. They said the current regulations ensure lot design standards are adhered to and environmental resources are protected

“It was a hassle and expensive, but I’m still in favor of it,” Jane Fritz said of the regulations that governed the development of her own property.

Conspicuously absent from the debate thus far is testimony from landowners who are overburdened by regulations when divvying up their land, added Lexie de Fremery.

“I have not heard at all from the public the burden of the regulations,” de Fremery said.

Martin said he was not opposed to streamlining process, but added there are still too many unknowns lurking in the proposed code change.

Planning Commissioner Don Davis said an unintended consequence of the code change could be a hefty workload for Planning Department staff.

“It puts a burden on the staff, probably more so than now,” Davis said.

The fate of the code change is unclear.

The county commission scheduled P&Z to meet during an Oct. 6 public hearing to take further testimony and issue a recommendation. However, planning commissioners said on Thursday they still lack sufficient information to make a recommendation.

Moreover, the terms of commissioners Martin and Davis expire on Sept. 30. The two have advised commissioners that they wish to continue serving on the volunteer panel, but acknowledged that county commissioners can replace them.

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