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The difference between minor and major

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | December 19, 2020 1:00 AM

In 2016 a series of county land use and development code consolidations resulted in not only a considerable increase of minor subdivisions in Kootenai County, but public safety hazards, said a county official.

At the time, the Kootenai County Planning and Zoning board of commissioners wanted more flexibility for minor subdivisions in the area, director of Community Development David Callahan said. The county had no clue that the number of minor subdivisions building lots would more than triple as a result.

"I didn't realize it would have the ramifications that it would," Callahan said. "Now you have a recipe for people avoiding the minor subdivisions process."

Before, regulations limited landowners to subdividing large plots into four or fewer lots if adjacent to highway district public roads. Another clause that helped stir up subdivision trouble is the "free-split" provision, Callahan said.

A common practice since the 1970s, free-splits allow original property owners who predate the county's code to divide their land as much as four times without going through the subdivision process — so long as it reaches zoning requirements.

"That has its problems because staff had to track down deeds on how the land had been split over time, what the original lot was, and it was quite a process," Callahan said. "Then in 2016, they had the idea to open things up a little and say it didn't matter the division so long as the original parcel was 20 acres."

This effectively changed the "free-split" to the "large lot division" exemption.

As a result, developments merely needed access to auxiliaries acceptable by fire district standards. Callahan said this side-stepped the regular major subdivision process, which is typically much longer and more rigorous.

The four highway district commissions have collectively labeled the developments as a safety concern, Callahan said, that are overloading arterials unable to withstand the traffic subdivisions carry in-tow.

"You can have 100 acres divided up to 20 acres by the exemption, and all of a sudden, you have just as many lots as a subdivision," said Ben Weymouth, the East Side Highway District director. "Our roads don't care how big the lots are. They care about how many cars are driving on them."

Much like other roads now flooded by Kootenai County's growing population, the districts report reduced speeds lower than posted limits and increased hazards.

"It's become like many things in life, highly politicized," Callahan said.

On Thursday night, Callahan posed to change the codes, modeling language from Spokane, which permits family members' land division but others through the minor subdivision process.

"You could see where this could be useful for a family that wants to go through a division, and they wouldn't have to go a minor expedition," Callahan said.

At the hearing, attendees expressed concerns with the codes and their change, including Josh Suhr, the 2020 president of the Coeur d'Alene Association of Realtors. While he recognized the problem of Kootenai County's explosion of minor subdivisions, he believes there should be more solution opportunities.

"We're of the mind that there needs to be more conversation, so we'd like a seat at the table to put together a workgroup," Suhr said. "This effectively shuts the door on over 50% of the minor subdivision applications by requiring it to be on a public road."

He said the restriction wouldn't stop the large-scale developers from building their subdivisions, but it would inhibit the smaller mom-and-pop deals.

"We're in such a supply and demand crunch right now that when we look at the number of minor subdivisions, it is a reasonable product of the market," Suhr said. "Obviously, there is some abuse going on, but that's the market we're in."

County commissioners unanimously voted to remand the code to planning and zoning. From there, the board will develop a working group to come forward with possible recommendations.