Priest Lake looks at subarea planning

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PRIEST LAKE — Interest was strong among Priest Lake residents in creating the community’s comprehensive subarea plan.

With about 40 people in attendance at the Nov. 8 informational meeting, Bonner County Planning director Milton Olleterton said it is one of the best turnouts planning staff has seen since they began holding them 18 months ago.

Planning staff began meeting with communities across the county and creating subcommittees over the past year and a half, due to concerns over the potential impacts of current and trending growth pressures. The committees are made up of community members who are tasked with creating subarea plans for the rural areas in which they live or own property. Committees have already been created for the Selle Valley, Sagle and Blanchard areas. A meeting similar to the one at Priest Lake Elementary was held recently in Priest River, as a committee will be formed for the Priest River and Oldtown area as well.

Bonner County’s comprehensive plan is vague, Ollerton said, referring minimally to designations such as agricultural forestry, rural residential or resort community.

“There is probably two or three sentences that describe what happens in the rural residential area,” said Milton Ollerton, Bonner County Planning director.

The vagueness of the county’s comprehensive plan is problematic as it addresses the entire county, but is not specific in addressing those specific areas. While the county is not growing as fast as it was in 2005, Ollerton said, there has been a steady increase in building permits over the years. Since he started in 2016, he said, the county has gone from about 800 to more than 1,000 building permits per year.

Jason Johnson, floodplain manager for the county planning department, said the subarea plan looks at the “big picture,” such as the overall goals, policies, objectives and vision of a community. Once a subarea plan is complete, it can give rise to more specific changes. The committee will address topics such as transportation and roads, recreation areas, land use designations and density, Ollerton said.

“We are trying to create subareas that fit the community, and we want the community not to just be involved, but to bring that passion and the love you have for this area, bring that to the table and let’s talk about how you want this area to look in 30 years,” Ollerton said. “Let’s draw up a subarea comprehensive plan that protects the things that you want to protect, that allows for growth where you think it should be allowed, and identify areas where things should occur that are appropriate for this area.”

One question that comes up at every meeting, Ollerton said, is what the boundaries will be for the subarea plan. That is something the committee will ultimately decide, so while they are unclear on what the boundaries for Priest Lake will be, anyone in the area interested in being on the committee is encouraged to submit their letter of interest to the Bonner County Planning and Zoning Commission.

One concern raised during the meeting revolved around the fact that the much of the land underneath structures in Priest Lake is owned the United States Forest Service. Ollerton said while there will not be a spot on the committee specifically for a USFS representative, the committee will likely work with them and other agencies as well throughout the process.

Another community member asked how the committee would go about involving the entire community in the process. Ollerton said each community is addressing that in a different way. Blanchard committee members, for example, is putting together a survey and is working on how they will distribute it to the community as it is a “challenging” area in the way of technology, Ollerton said. Talking to neighbors is one of the responsibilities of committee members, Johnson said.

“Bringing in feedback from everyone you know is part of the job,” Johnson said.

The committee will be made up of nine community members with three alternates, Ollerton said. Up to three of the committee members can own property in the Priest Lake area and not be full time residents. The Planning and Zoning Commission members want at least five people who own property and live in the Priest Lake area full-time to serve on the committee, and those who have structures on leased land and renters are encouraged to submit letters of interest as well. The committee will typically meet once a month in Priest Lake.

The commission will begin an interview process in December to determine who will serve on the committee. Letters of interest should be submitted by Nov. 28 by mail to 1500 Highway 2, Suite 208, Sandpoint, Idaho, 83864; or via email at planning@bonnercountyid.gov.

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

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