Comp plan changes for UI site OK’d

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City Council memebers approved updates last week to the city’s comprehensive plan in regards to the University of Idaho property on Boyer Avenue. (File photo by MARY MALONE)

SANDPOINT — More than half of the 77-acre University of Idaho property on Boyer Avenue could be public-access parks and recreation. That is, if a developer follows the city's comprehensive plan on ideal uses for the property.

City Council members approved updates to the city's comprehensive plan during a public hearing last week — a process which began in September after UI officials announced plans to sell the property. Because the comprehensive plan is a guiding document and is not regulatory, however, Councilman Bob Camp pointed out the proposed land uses could change if a private developer came in with a different vision for the property.

"If a developer wanted to come in for, say, a planned unit development where you contractually negotiate the zoning, (the comprehensive plan) would be a good foundation for negotiating with the developer on how it should be done," said Aaron Qualls, city planning and economic development director.

The property is currently zoned single-family, and while the comprehensive plan does not address zoning, updating it will help inform staff for possible zoning changes in the future, Qualls said.

Feedback from public workshops held over the past few months indicated community members see parks and recreation as a top priority for the property, Qualls said, which guided staff toward the proposed plan updates. 

At the first workshop on Sept. 19, attended by approximately 50 community members, recreation came in as the highest priority at 54 percent. Housing and education were the next top priorities at 11 percent each. At the onsite tour on Sept. 27, several suggestions were made in regards to parks and recreation, including cycling, cyclocross, cross-country skiing, a dog park, preservation of the waterfront, community garden, driving range and recreation center.

A recreation center is being considered as council members recently approved of a $20,000 feasibility study for a YMCA recreation center on the property. As per the agreement, the YMCA is contributing $7,500 toward the study, and the city will contribute the remaining $12,500 using funds awarded through the High Five Community Transformation Grant from the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation.

The comprehensive plan updates proposed by city staff breaks the property up into four context areas, the largest of which is the park area at 57 percent. Context area "3," a residential area described as higher density development through the use of smaller lot sizes, smaller setbacks and more units per lot, is the third-largest coverage area at 13 percent.

Context area "3B" covers 19 percent of the property and is identical to context area "3," but incorporates mixed use and neighborhood-compatible retail, such as salons and coffee shops. The remaining 11 percent of the property, part of which is located at the south end and eyed for a possible recreation center, is under context area "4," which is similar to context area "3B" with increased density, emphasizing two- and three-story mixed use and attached townhouse-style residences.  

The UI property was originally home to the Sandpoint Research and Extension Center, which closed in 2010 due to budget cuts. The center was among 12 facilities statewide at that time targeted for closure as UI officials looked to cut $3.2 million from the school's research and extension budget. Two years prior to that, it was being proposed as a UI satellite campus, but to no avail. It has since been used by groups for recreational purposes, such as cross-country skiing and disc golf.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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