As Planning and Zoning commissioners in Coeur d’Alene we see many unique challenges that have a huge impact on life on our roads, waterways and even schools. So when our commission followed the letter of the law and insisted an entire garage roof needed to be torn down for being a mere 10 inches higher than the 18 foot (216 inches) code for a PORTION of the roof, I question what we are doing.
The case was a tiny human error that harmed no one but legal black print on a white page. Three findings were needed to allow this minuscule variance and one finding was not a fit due to a flat site.
As a city we should not act or behave as an HOA, nor should we stop listening to our public. Bureaucracy in the extreme harms relationships as well as good faith in the people in power who happen to work for us. When we force a builder to tear off a brand new roof for 10 inches of over height; send 100 cubic feet of new lumber waste to the landfill for barely 8 cubic feet of infraction; and override the opinions of supportive neighbors who never saw the evil in the deed, then it is bureaucratic overreach.
The street likely had older garages at our former 25-foot top line, not our current 18 foot. Extenuating circumstances and common sense should be a consideration, state law or not. We did do harm to the landfill. We did harm the owner and builder. We did do harm for honest contractors who step forward. We acted as a bureaucracy will under the law, but are we morally right?
If there is no physical harm, financial harm, detrimental impacts to systems or services or a taking involved, then we need to listen to our citizens. In this case, “We the Bureaucracy” actually caused unnecessary financial harm to the owner, supplier and builder as well as needless landfill waste just to make a point that the variance was not ticking all three boxes.
The other detriment is that an honest builder came forward and we kicked him hard. Many builders do NOT come forward and if not identified, the infraction goes unnoticed. So as a teaching moment we just taught all builders in Cd’A to keep quiet and keep building; honest Abes need not raise their hands.
No wonder Kootenai County will have a hard time turning back the clock on full building code reviews. I am sure this example will rear its head as a case in point this month at NIC.
I do not believe Planning and Zoning commissioners should join the bureaucrats that serve the city or the state. We are the guardians for the public and OUR city of the future. The issue came before P&Z since we DO have an independent voice if we choose to use it. I believe commissioners have the burden of making change to cumbersome and harmful outcomes. Common sense flew the coop for 10 inches. We need to create laws that work with our customers rather than hurt them.
We have so many bigger and more troubling issues we should be addressing, not slapping tiny infractions with a sledgehammer.
Lynn Fleming is a Coeur d’Alene P&Z Commissioner.