Growing pains and the city of Sandpoint

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Sandpoint is growing. The population grew 5.1% in 2017, far above the 1.2% annual average. We are seeing development throughout the city in residential and commercial. This is good for the economy, creating more jobs, opportunity and services, it also comes with some growing pains.

Perhaps most noteworthy, several request for zone changes in the area of the airport have recently been considered by City Council. In all of these cases, the land owner has requested to up-zone the property to allow for more residential use.

On one hand, it is great that we are seeing an uptick in residential development. The increase in housing supply helps to reduce the cost. Limited housing and high cost have been identified by business leaders as two key obstacles to business growth and ability to hire and retain a workforce. High cost of housing also make Sandpoint less live-able for all of us.

On the other hand, increased residential growth around the airport is problematic. Standards established by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Idaho Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division discourage residential use in the neighboring vicinity of the airport. Residential uses within 1000 feet of the runway are considered incompatible because this area, called the “lateral safety zone,” is considered unsafe due to potential aircraft crashes. The airport also generates a significant amount of noise throughout the day and night that is incompatible with residential use.

Unfortunately, our current Compre-hensive Land Use Plan and zoning don’t provide adequate guidance for the commission or the council to address this conflict.

To aid the council in these decisions, I have required all zoning changes to residential use in the Airport Overlay District to go through a public hearing before City Council in addition to the Planning and Zoning Commission. This ensures that the public has every opportunity to be informed about the proposed zoning change and to provide needed input to council. In this way council can make the most informed decision possible.

This was standard practice for all zoning change applications just a few years ago, but it is still a great practice for any controversial proposals like increased residential use around the airport.

The significance of the airport as an economic driver can hardly be overstated. It brings in over $33 million in annual revenue (in 2008), is home to Quest, one of the county’s largest employers, and is ground zero for the region’s growing aerospace industry.

As such it is critical that the city is careful not to jeopardize its funding or its viability through hasty planning decisions. The Sandpoint Airport is reliant on federal grant funding for ongoing maintenance and improvements. Allowing incompatible uses within the safety zone signals to the FAA that Sandpoint does not place a high value on its airport and public safety which could disqualify the airport from receiving essential grant funding. This can have a catastrophic impact not just on the airport but on our regional economy which is increasingly bolstered by the success of the local aerospace industry.

Sandpoint needs a thoughtful plan which accommodates future growth responsibly and doesn’t unnecessarily jeopardize the airport or the economy. Toward that end, the city will be updating its Comprehensive Land Use Plan next year which will guide future development. Special focus will be given to the Airport Overlay District and to the area of city impact, the areas into which the city is anticipated to grow in the future. This updated plan will address and resolve potential conflicts of use.

The city is also developing an infrastructure master plan and a transportation master that will ensure efficient and timely allocation of resources that can support future growth. Collectively, these efforts will lead to a plan for growth which is clear, easy to follow and promotes good development.

Please join me at the Mayor’s Roundtable this Friday, 8-9 a.m., at Cedar St. Bistro to discuss this and other issues vital to Sandpoint’s continued success.

Shelby Rognstad is the mayor of Sandpoint. He can be reached at mayor@sandpointidaho.gov.

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