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Coeur Housing gets mixed reviews from some locals

Staff Writer | December 12, 2020 1:06 AM

Dave Johnson said when he attended the Dec. 1 Coeur d’Alene City Council meeting, his ears perked up at the first sign of something new.

“One of the core values for the project itself is to have a variety of housing choices,” Hilary Anderson, community planning director for the city, told the council. “We made that very clear from the very beginning that’s one of the core values. We didn’t want it to be all single-family or just apartments. We really wanted to have a mix of housing products throughout, because it creates community. It creates diversity.”

That project is Coeur Housing, a campaign to adjust zoning code to allow for infill that creates seldom-used housing options, such as townhouses, cottage courts, triplexes, fourplexes, courtyard apartments and multiplexes. The project was inspired, in part, by a concept that has gained steam since late 2019 in Coeur d’Alene’s housing lexicon: the “missing middle.”

“You go to a project like Kendall Yards,” Anderson said, “or you go to some of these places in other communities, and you’re, like, ‘Wow, this feels great. There’s a mixed use area. There’s retail, there’s different housing product types, there’s a park, there’s all these things. It all just fits together.’”

Coeur Housing would replace two former infill housing codes — pocket housing and cluster housing — that were eventually repealed for not meeting particular standards and not meshing with existing neighborhoods. Council directed the planning department to work on this after a series of seminars by Opticos Design. That spawned a series of workshops, the most recent in November, that are expected to continue into the new year. Once the language gets updated, Coeur Housing would then go to the planning commission in May and, if approved, to the City Council for the final say.

The project stipulates the maximum size of a Coeur Housing project would be on a property no greater than 33,000 square feet. But that flexibility built into the project accommodates smaller Coeur Housing projects: No more than 22 units would work on a .75 acre property, for example. Coeur Housing would be excluded from smaller zoned neighborhoods, as well.

But many interpreted Coeur Housing as a tool in the city’s struggle to bring affordable housing to the area, including Mayor Steve Widmyer, a connection he deemed absent in the presentation, as some projects could cost roughly the same as their already-approved equivalents.

“We’ve been talking about affordable housing,” he said during the meeting. “I thought this “missing middle” was meant to address affordable housing. That’s one of the biggest challenges we have right now in our community is affordable housing.”

Anderson then said Coeur Housing is not meant to solve affordable housing, but that allowing more housing choices would naturally give more affordable choices.

But Johnson — a homeowner who lives near Armstrong Park, a neighborhood that would not qualify for Coeur Housing — interpreted the project as a mechanism to open the floodgates to low-income and higher-density projects. The latter, Johnson said, is what unnerves him.

“That’s what I have an issue with is the density,” he told The Coeur d’Alene Press. “I know they’re not going to be building tenement buildings like in Detroit or Chicago. But I still think this doesn’t seem like it’s a right fit for Idaho. Some of the things they’re building (on Sherman Avenue, east of North Eighth), those are nice-looking housing units. But there are four of those. What will it look like when you build 10?”

Johnson has been the vocal representative of a small but growing number of residents in Coeur d’Alene who have interpreted the “Missing Middle” housing and Coeur Housing as an invitation for lower-income housing that could adversely impact property values. It’s a claim Anderson and other city leaders have flatly rejected; Anderson urged residents to visit the city’s website to learn more about the project.

But Johnson has written emails to Anderson, city administrator Troy Tymesen and other officials explaining his concerns over the past few weeks. He said the more immediate solution to grow responsibly begins with infrastructure.

“They try to build something and then adjust the infrastructure afterward,” Johnson said. “Whether it’s police and fire, whether it’s roads, whether it’s sewer, whether it’s Avista. Can these neighborhoods handle additional infill housing? I know what the city (population) projections are, but has anyone looked at these increases in specific neighborhoods?”

The next committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 27.