SANDPOINT — When University of Idaho officials announced plans to sell the 77-acre property on Boyer Avenue, it opened up a world of opportunity for the city and the community.
A recreation center, open space and affordable housing are just some of the ideas that have come up during an extensive community outreach campaign by city officials over the past several months.
To ensure the wishes of the community are taken into account during the process, city officials are looking for funding to secure the property.
"The city doesn’t necessarily want to be the developer," said Aaron Qualls, planning and economic development director. "But if we did own the property, we could sell it with some restrictions on it to make sure that the community's vision of it is realized."
If the city succeeds in getting the funding, it would likely sell portions of the property, while maintaining some of it, he said. City officials have been invited to apply for funding through the LOR Foundation, and are also looking into funding through the Sandpoint Urban Renewal Agency, as well as possible federal funding.
The city, through its Planning and Zoning Commission, embarked on the community engagement process in September 2017. This process was kicked off with a series of public workshops and hearings that resulted in a subarea update to the city’s comprehensive plan which was adopted by the City Council on Dec. 6, 2017.
The public engagement process continued this week with open houses on Monday and Tuesday, followed by the workshop Tuesday evening.
"The comp plan was sort of area-wide, and this is drilling down as a conceptual master plan," Qualls said.
For this process, the city enlisted the help of Studio Cascade, a planning and design company; Walker Macy, an architect, landscape, urban design and planning firm; and Idaho Smart Growth, a nonprofit that studies current growth development patterns and aids city in comprehensive planning.
Representatives from each company attended the two open house days. The open house on Monday opened with three scenarios laid out for the property — recreation and open space, economic and sustainability, or urban development.
"We came in here with nothing except those three scenarios, trying to characterize how the comprehensive plan land use designation would actually play out," said William Grimes with Studio Cascade.
Sticky notes were provided for the public to make comments and stick to whichever scenario caught their eye. Scenario A, recreation and open space, had the most comments in support.
"Not surprisingly, a lot of people really wanted to be able to retain the recreation, but they also acknowledged we need to find a way to pay for that," Grimes said. "Even if someone buys the land, it still needs to be maintained and operated, and that’s expensive."
Over the course of the two days, the crew from Studio Cascade and Walker Macy toured the site tour to identify the planning areas, translating their findings into a schematic development plan to drill into the different character areas of the land, Grimes said. Then, looking at the comments, delved deeper into the different land use characteristics.
By the time they reached the workshop Tuesday evening, the group had several large printouts of a schematic they created using those comments. The workshop participants were then asked what their feelings were regarding what they had come up with during the open houses.
While their goal was to maintain as much open space as possible, many of the comments indicated the workshop participants desire even more open space and recreation. Some of the comments included maintaining green space and “emphasize the wild nature” of the property; add a recreation center on the south end and some commercial on the north end, but the leave the majority in its natural state; taper back on housing density to include more open space; focus on workforce housing; and to include a parking lot with SPOT bus access to get to downtown.
Workshop organizers assured the comments would be taken into account as the process moves forward. Qualls said City Council will review, and possibly vote on, the final conceptual plan on Feb. 21.
There is still opportunity for the public to comment by filling out an online survey on the city’s website at sandpointidaho.gov/uofi.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.