Council approves Tillberg zone change

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SANDPOINT — City Council members approved a zone change, for the second time, for Steve and Maureen Tillberg’s property near the Sandpoint Airport on Wednesday night.

While the request was initially approved by council in March, it was vetoed by Mayor Shelby Rognstad in April as he wanted another public hearing to “ensure a robust public comment opportunity.” That is exactly what the council got, as more than 20 people testified during the two-hour hearing.

“Everyone in the audience, I appreciate the time that you have taken to speak,” said Councilman Thomas Eddy after making the motion to approve the request. “I understand your concerns, I understand the safety risks, I understand a lot more about this than I did the first time around, but we have our code and that is what I have to base my decision off of.”

The Tillbergs 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 it is not adjacent. The couple went through the procedure of changing the property from single-family to mixed-use residential, though Rognstad announced his intention to veto the ordinance during the April 17 council meeting.

The property lies within the airport overlay zone per state guidelines, which primarily governs height to protect aviation navigation, said city planning and economic development director Aaron Qualls. With the property being close to the north end of the airport, noise and the potential for injury or death due to plane crashes were areas of concern if the property were converted into a high-density residential neighborhood.

The zone change request 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, Taylor determined the property met all the requirements as set forth in the regulations and codes. After submitting their application in January, the couple completed all of the requirements outlined by the city and, on March 5, a public hearing was held by the Planning and Zoning Commission. 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, later to be vetoed by Rognstad.

“Steve and I have spent the last eight months and thousands of dollars defending our right to have this property rezoned and you, the City Council, already approved it,” Maureen Tillberg said during the comment portion of the public hearing. “A simple rezone request has basically turned into a nightmare for us.”

During Wednesday’s public hearing, 14 people, including the Tillbergs, testified in favor of the zone change. The common thread between all of the testimony in favor was that there is a need for affordable housing, as was the Tillbergs’ goal for the rezone, though Maureen Tillberg said they do not plan on developing the property themselves. There were also several people who commented on the Tillbergs and their ties to the community.

“I have known Maureen and Steve for nearly 15 years,” said Jim Corcoran of Sagle. “Maureen and I put together the Bonner County Fair Foundation to raise funds and complete work at the Bonner County Fairgrounds. If my mind does not fail me, we raised approximately $50,000 and completed many projects at the fairgrounds ... At no time in my involvement with Steve and Maureen have I seen or heard her or him cheating, lying or stealing. Both Maureen and Steve are honest people who truly care about their fellow citizens. I ask the Sandpoint council to vote with their hearts and vote to allow the Tillbergs to move ahead with their zone change.”

“The Tillbergs are a long-time, well-respected family with many, many friends in the Sandpoint area,” said Patti Howell of Sandpoint. “The Tillbergs have helped the airport in the past with the relocation of Boyer Avenue to its current location and other land deeds. Is denying their zone change the thanks they get for all the help they have done in the past?”

Many of the comments in favor of the zone change mirrored Corcoran’s in that the Tillbergs are honest people and want what is best for the community by providing land for affordable housing.

Comments opposing the zone change primarily surrounded airport safety, with one pilot testifying that he just recently flew over the property as he took off from the airport, and if something had failed, he would rather hit one of the many trees on the property now than a multi-family residence. Among the six people who spoke in opposition, Scott Dempsey testified toward the importance of the airport and its importance in the community, including the students who learn to fly and work on planes through the North Idaho High School Aerospace program. While Dempsey said he understands the need for affordable housing, he thought the best use of the property would be to keep it as single-family.

“Multi-family, a higher density, is not a good idea,” he said, adding that Steve Tillberg helped him and some others out when a plane crashed at the airport. “I like the Tillbergs and they have helped the community a lot, but that was just one indicator right there — that plane was within 100 feet of the corner of that property.”

Another who testified against the zone change was Dave Schuck, manager of the Bonner County airports, who said one of the greater concerns is the noise that the planes create. He played a recording of a woman who lives close to the airport who recently complained about excessive early morning and late night flights.

“We have the responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the community,” Schuck said. “There are compatible land use issues with this property, there are hazards due to the increased likelihood of off-airport landings, and there are certainly noise and annoyance considerations on residential property so close to the airport.”

While the Tillbergs prevailed, no new zone change requests for the area surrounding the airport can be made for up to a year, as council members also adopted a temporary moratorium on to allow city staff adequate time to complete a comprehensive plan update. The moratorium does not apply to applications completed and received by the city prior to the adoption of the ordinance.

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

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