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County hears ideas for managing growth

Staff Writer | August 24, 2020 1:08 AM

Community Development director offers several possible options

Kootenai County has grown by 22% over the last 10 years and is beginning to riff between expanding into farmland or packing the growth into cities.

Last week, Community Development Director David Callahan told the county commissioners about several options other counties have taken to combat growth.

“There is a storied history to growth management that dates back to 1972,” Callahan said. “It’s been an ongoing argument that has sometimes caused vigorous debates for years.”

Callahan explained how in the state of Washington, the legislature intervened on municipal growth through the concept of concurrency. To maintain concurrency, all public facilities such as roads, water and sewer must be put in place before a new development begins construction.

While working in Boulder County, Colo., Callahan saw a growth management practice of placing a local tax on county residents to purchase open space. Through collecting this tax for 25 years, the county was able to buy about 58,000 acres of open space, Callahan said.

“There had been such an influx of development pressures in Colorado, particularly the Boulder area, that all the good farmland was being eaten up,” Callahan said. “So politicians in the cities and counties got together and agreed on multiple front approaches whether they rezoned the entire county from a minimum size of 5 acre lots to 35 acres.”

Through Boulder County’s open space program, the cities and counties developed a lease-back agreement as a method to keep farmers on the land. By automatically leasing back the properties to farmers who were being pressured to create the same market returns as high-rise developers, Callahan said residents were able to create a balance.

Another option Callahan shared would be to issue a select number of building permits per year that align with public works capacity for new sewer and water developments. After that, there would be a moratorium on new construction.

“One of the ways we could accomplish whatever the board wanted to do would be to renegotiate our Area of City Impact agreement,” Callahan said. “We are coming to the end of our process with Hauser, and our coordinated agreement with Rathdrum, Hayden, and Post Falls. I think it is overdue for negotiation as well.”

Kootenai County’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides development and growth practices, was last updated in 2010.

Pat Braden, legal counsel for the county, said that while developing the plan, the population of Kootenai County was split 70% in cities and 30% in unincorporated counties. In the last decade, that has shifted more to 80% in cities and 20% unincorporated.

The board agreed that growth is a big issue in the county. However, Commissioner Leslie Duncan said it should not be their job to control the community’s actions.

“It doesn’t hurt to research and look at these things, but it’s not the role of the government to plan growth, just plan for growth,” Duncan said. “Planning growth means where we are going to let it happen and control it, and planning for growth recognizes we know ACI’s are coming, so infrastructure needs to be put in.”

Callahan said he and his team would begin crafting a plan, giving an overview of what growth has occurred in the county over the last 48 years and some options the commissioners have to move forward.

“It’s a worthwhile exercise, but I do think to Leslie’s point there is a philosophical issue that must be addressed,” Commissioner Chris Fillios said. “If people want to take the approach that the government needs to stay out of it, so be it.”