Major cities are growing, with younger people seeking better paying jobs and a more active social life. Smaller cities, including Coeur d’Alene, are experiencing more growth as well. Cd’A growth is retirees seeking a slower lifestyle but includes working people with families.
Growth is here whether we like it or not. Some say the solution is a moratorium on building. If we don’t build it, they cannot come. This approach has negative results and potentially larger problems. The way to address this must be by recognizing projected growth and developing workable solutions. These solutions need to come primarily at the local government level, which is best equipped to address the problems associated with growth.
Generally, land use decisions both for commercial developments and those that add residential units encounter local resident opposition. Local officials may view these as beneficial for increasing the tax base. The sins committed against zoning in the name of economic gain are numerous. There are at a minimum three most valid concerns relating to growth; school overcrowding, lack of adequate park space and traffic.
Many jurisdictions address school overcrowding with impact fees. This is a fee added to the cost of a building permit with the money being set aside for schools. The problem here is that the fees would need to be extremely high to raise the amount of revenue a school district might need to address overcrowding.
Planners tracking Census data can accurately determine student projections. If a developer wants to build 100 units with an anticipated student population of 50 students and a cost of $1,000 per student, then that development is adding $50,000 to the cost for schools. The development theoretically should contribute $50,000 to the school district at the time the development is approved. The amount translates to $500 per unit, which the developer could add to the sales price of the new unit. A $300,000 unit becomes $300,500.
That’s a substantial amount of money but the impact is minimized when included within a 30-year mortgage. Shared pain is more equitable than the taxpayer getting the full bill or, worse, having overcrowded and underfunded schools.
Another option would be a land dedication. In lieu of paying a fee, the developer may opt to dedicate land for a future school site on part of the property or other property the developer may own. This could be cost free to the school district. In exchange the developer could be allowed to transfer the development rights from the dedicated portion to the balance being developed.
In effect, if the dedicated parcel would allow 10 units, then the developer could build 10 additional units on the balance of the development. One hundred units are built but on a slightly smaller parcel. The developer is giving little out of pocket. Density or development right transfers can raise issues but generally are doable.
Lack of adequate park space raises very similar issues as schools. Again, impact fees are often used and can help moreso with parks due to lower capital costs. The same formula for parks as cited for schools could work.
Here’s a greater problem. All developments create traffic impacts. The major concern with traffic is the congestion created. Local government actions can help alleviate traffic congestion.
Traffic studies are a proactive means of projecting growth and the number of vehicles a new development will generate. Such studies can show the need for traffic light sequencing, lane width changes, signage and the need for new traffic signals. These present both cost problems and right-of-way acquisition issues.
If these actions are a direct result of a proposed development, the development should be expected to pay some portion of the corrective action or provide some means to minimize the new impacts. The corrective action may involve land dedications for new or added right of way, turn lanes or possibly re-striping of a roadway. Other corrections may fall on the municipality to address using its established revenue sources.
Paying fees for improving certain public services due to growth has been common for years. Instituting a fee structure where one hasn’t existed can raise great concern within the development industry.
Not having adequate services should raise a louder concern among the residents who need the services and are paying through the local property tax.
Ordinances can be developed at the local level to address growth. Such ordinances should receive input from developers, the public and all those who share an interest in maintaining a high quality of life for our community.
Coeur d’Alene has changed and will continue to change. Will it return to the Cd’A of 1980s or even the 1990s? No, it will not. Uncontrolled growth not being addressed is the problem.
As a community, be it Kootenai County or the various cities, we need to address growth together. As any city or town grows, including Coeur d’Alene, it doesn’t have to lose the identity that continues to bring people here.
Phil Ward is a Coeur d’Alene resident and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.