Building, zoning law rewrite in question

Use of out-of-state firm concerns some residents

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COEUR d'ALENE - The extra help has folks worried.

Some Kootenai County residents are questioning the choice to rewrite county building and zoning laws with the aid of an out-of-state firm.

"I do not understand why our county commissioners would be sending our taxpayer dollars to Kendig Keast, an out of town company, to write our county regulations," stated Coeur d'Alene resident Sharon Culbreth.

The commissioners recently hired Kendig Keast Collaborative, which has offices in several outside states, to assist in drafting all new county development ordinances.

The previous board of commissioners had set aside $350,000 for the contract.

The new laws, expected to be written over the next two years, are intended to carry out the specific vision of growth established in the new Comprehensive Plan.

But some are wary as Kendig Keast collects public input, like through citizen committees and a public workshop scheduled tonight.

Culbreth wrote in an email that she worries the hiring of the firm is excessive spending and unnecessary, since the company is unfamiliar with our area.

"The county planners should be responsible for working on the changes to fit the county comprehensive plan," Culbreth said. "They are hired by the county commissioners, paid by the citizens of the county and they live here."

Coeur d'Alene resident Leah Southwell is circulating emails warning folks about tonight's workshop.

She believes Kendig Keast has already decided what will go into the new ordinances - which will cover zoning districts, building standards, housing densities and community character - and that property rights are at risk.

"The goal is to create stakeholder or community rights that will inevitably conflict with individual rights," she wrote.

Also concerned is state Rep. Kathy Sims, who said she worries that Kendig Keast will simply try to push through its own agenda.

"We've got to be very, very careful we don't lose our private property rights," Sims said.

Commissioner Todd Tondee said general opposition stems from folks who would prefer no property-related restrictions at all.

"I think you'd get just as much opposition if they (county planners) were going to do it," he said.

But the county Community Development staff lacks the time and expertise to write new laws that will be viable for decades to come, he pointed out.

"The purpose is to get a professional to do it with the best intent and to make it usable for lots of years to come," Tondee said.

Private property rights are protected through Idaho's Local Land Use Planning Act, he added.

Commissioner Dan Green reminded that state law requires for counties to have a Comprehensive Plan and ordinances that implement that plan.

Developing ordinances is a very specialized task, Green said, and one that hasn't been done in Kootenai County for more than 20 years.

Hence the need for a firm's assistance.

"(Kendig Keast) were hired through a very public process with a lot of input from the members of our community," said Green, previously chairman of the county Planning and Zoning Commission.

County Community Development staff has stated that the public will be allowed to view and comment on ordinance drafts as they are written.

Green encouraged folks to attend tonight's workshop, scheduled from 6-8 in Room 1 of the county Administration Building.

The firm will collect people's opinions about community character and densities.

If anything, Green said, this is a chance for folks to balance their personal property rights.

"People have an opportunity they haven't had in 20 years to participate in writing these new ordinances," he said. "It's a very transparent process."

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