Public concerns and outrage regarding the impacts of a proposed massive, high-density development on a former riverfront millsite are “right on.”
To clear up some of the confusion about the millsites … there are two old millsites on the Spokane River off Seltice Way: 1.) the city-owned Atlas property (47 acres) next to Riverstone, and 2.) the adjacent westerly, privately owned River’s Edge property (23 acres) bordering Mill River.
The city-owned Atlas site is being designed with public value and waterfront access in mind.
But of particular concern is the River’s Edge proposal, where the developer has requested a zoning change to very high-density (R-34) zoning — from the current C-17. This zoning change would double the density, permitting 870 new apartments — in multiple high-rise buildings. There would be 16 six-story buildings and five 5-story buildings — a total of 21 new high-rise buildings, several very near the riverfront.
Many feel this massive apartment project on the river would be a bad fit aesthetically for this special riverfront site, and there’s no question it would aggravate the traffic on the already congested Northwest Boulevard corridor and its access to Interstate 90. The 870 apartments would generate over 6,000 vehicles per day! Anyone living in the vicinity (e.g., Riverstone, Mill River) or using Northwest Boulevard should be concerned … and nothing kills tourist trade in a resort city like traffic congestion. The 2,200 new residents would comprise a village with the population of St. Maries packed into only a 23-acre small area!
A formal traffic study has been commissioned by the city, but has not yet been completed and made public. This must happen — with ample time for public review — before any development plan is considered by the city.
To enable this large development, a land swap has been proposed with the River’s Edge developer. Under this deal, the city would permit the lucrative re-zoning to R34, but the city would only get a narrow 40-foot easement along the river for a public trail, and a piece of property fronting Seltice Way. The city would also have to give up its ownership of the old railroad right-of-way running through the property.
Many don’t see this land swap as a very good deal for the city and the citizens of Coeur d’Alene, especially considering the long-term impacts of 870 new apartments and the minimal community benefit the deal offers. Perhaps some form of land swap could make sense, but not if it permits the R34 zoning on the parcel. A less dense, more creative mixed use project should be negotiated by our city officials. There will only be one chance to do this right.
So the requested zoning change should be denied by the city.
One very important point is that the city is in the driver’s seat on this development, and they shouldn’t feel any pressure to approve a zoning change. That’s because as part of the formal Annexation Agreement, when this special property was annexed into the city in 2014, the city required that any future development be a Planned Unit Development (PUD), subject to the city’s approval. PUDs give cities more discretion and control over the design and features of special developments, such as this unique riverfront property. The intent is to give the city a lot of say in what the development will look like. So the city must step up, use its authority, and insist on a more creative and less impactful development for this unique riverfront site.
This special riverfront property is a “once in forever” opportunity for city development. Done wrong, it will negatively impact the quality of life in Cd’A for years to come. Done right, it can enhance and honor our unique lake and river setting.
We’ll only get one chance to do it right.
This project proposal and request for very high density zoning (R-34) will come to a hearing before the City Planning Commission for approval on Dec. 11. I hope residents will make their feelings known to our city officials.
Roger Smith is a Coeur d’Alene resident.