Zone change veto frustrates couple

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SANDPOINT — Local landowners are expressing frustration of the mayor’s decision to veto a zone change to their property last week, shortly after the ordinance was approved by City Council.

“We are extremely disappointed by the decision and believe it to be blatantly unfair,” landowner Maureen Tillberg said in an email to the Daily Bee.

Tillberg and her husband Steve own two parcels, making up approximately 8.5 acres at the corner of North Boyer and Schweitzer Cutoff Road. The property is located near the north end of the Sandpoint Airport, though not directly connected. The couple went through the procedure of changing the property from single-family to mixed-use residential, though Mayor Shelby Rognstad announced his intention to veto the ordinance during the April 17 City Council meeting, stating that he had been “troubled” by the decision since first becoming aware of the request.

“It didn’t make me comfortable that it was a split decision by the Planning and Zoning Commission to approve the zone change,” Rognstad said. “I am not necessarily opposed to the zoning change, but I believe we should have provided an additional opportunity for public comment in a hearing before City Council made the final decision.”

Tillberg said the statement that it was a split decision by the commission “does not hold water.”

“They did have a legal quorum,” she said. “They did have plenty of time for questions and answers and after approval of the vote, the vote should stand. Nowhere does it say it has to be unanimous.”

The zone change dates back to December when the Tillbergs hired Marty Taylor, a certified land planner with Sewell and Associates to investigate the possibility. After combing through city, state, federal and FAA codes, Tillberg said Taylor determined the property met all the requirements as set forth in the regulations and codes. After submitting their application in January, Tillberg said they completed all of the requirements outlined by the city and, on March 5, a public hearing was held by the Planning and Zoning Commission. After listening to comments and a “lengthy consideration” of the request, the commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of the request.

The request then went to City Council for approval on March 20, and was unanimously approved by council members. Approval of the ordinance itself came back to council last week, with all voting in favor except for Councilman John Darling, who abstained.

Tillberg listed a number of reasons for the couple’s disappointment of the veto, including that they spent months and thousands of dollars, properly following Sandpoint City Code and processes to obtain approval.

“Our engineer, Marty Taylor, did an excellent job of researching all FAA, city, county and state codes and nothing in those codes indicated any reason we should not be granted our rezone,” Tillberg said.

Tillberg said she and her husband currently do not have a development plan for the property. One of their reasons for the zone change request, however, is because of the “extreme need” for affordable housing in Sandpoint.

“In discussions with the (Bonner County Economic Development Corporation), they have difficulty recruiting companies to Sandpoint because there is not enough affordable housing for new businesses,” she said. “Our purpose for requesting the rezone is to sell the property to a developer who has any number of options to develop the property. Any future development plans will have to be reviewed and approved by the city before it can be developed.”

In a letter to council members prior to last week’s council meeting, indicating his intent to veto, Rognstad said he would like to have a public hearing on the matter during the city’s May 15 meeting to “ensure a robust public comment opportunity.” Tillberg said it is “unfair” to do this as they have already complied with City Code.

“We are distressed with the possibility of having to continue spending more money paying our CLP, and taking more time to move forward with having another public hearing, when we already went through this process as required by Sandpoint City Code,” she said.

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

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