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A look at Coeur d’Alene’s future

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | February 27, 2020 1:00 AM

Preliminary analysis shows people want focus on education, active lifestyles, small-town feel

A briefing at City Hall Wednesday afternoon delivered preliminary findings of how Coeur d’Alene residents see their town’s future.

Alex Dupey, director of planning services for consulting group MIG, gave a presentation detailing the results of an analysis to the mayor, council members, Planning and Zoning commissioners, city staff and community leaders. The analysis, contracted out by the community’s long-range planning group Envision CDA, showed a city yearning for a small-town feel, stronger schools and a commitment to active lifestyles in natural surroundings.

“It was really just to get an idea,” Dupey said.

Dupey and MIG collected their data during a series of workshops, surveys and meetings. The initial Sept. 26 meeting brought more than 80 participants, starting a six-month process to dissect a diversity in answers over a range of issues facing Coeur d’Alene’s future.

“We listened to quite a few concerns from people throughout the length of this project,” Dupey said. “We thought it was important to get that sense early on in the process.”

The idea of the study was to give the city and its planners a handle on what matters to residents as government officials update and build upon Coeur d’Alene’s comprehensive plan.

The questions posed dealt with what the public perceives as the city’s biggest opportunities and challenges, what defines Coeur d’Alene and what people want to see in 2040 and beyond.

Some answers were predictable. Some surprised Dupey and his team.

When asked to pick four phrases that define Coeur d’Alene, the easy favorite — “City by the lake” — took home 86 percent of the respondents’ choices, followed by “Tourist destination” with 68 percent, “Gateway to the outdoors” at 48 percent and “Small town” at 34 percent.

When asked to weigh the most important issues in Coeur d’Alene today, the runaway favorites were preserving access to natural resources, access to good K-12 schools, year-round job opportunities and protecting neighborhoods.

Adequate transit service, keeping and attracting a younger generation and mixed housing options were deemed less important.

The issue residents saw was most likely in the city’s future was an increase in traffic congestion.

“I think it shows a diversity of thought,” Dupey explained.

Project leaders put together a community vision statement Dupey said recognized the reality of Coeur d’Alene today while emphasizing the goals participants wanted to fulfill in the future.

“Coeur d’Alene is the vibrant heart of North Idaho,” the statement reads. “Together, we inspire a community of excellence that cultivates activity, partnerships and innovation. As the region’s cultural and economic center, our growth is balanced by an affordable cost of living, professional advancement opportunities, and top-tier education. We strive to protect our spectacular waterfronts, connected green spaces, rich history, and healthy lifestyles that set Coeur d’Alene apart. Our residents are committed to our future and the legacy we celebrate.”

While councilmembers and commissioners praised the sentiment behind the statement, the gathering of minds also dissected the vision, airing concerns that it did not encompass enough of the lake, emphasize enough diversity or was simply too long. Others said, while it depicted a beautiful community, the statement didn’t address goals unique to Coeur d’Alene.

“I see you included the waterfront up there,” Councilmember Dan Gookin pointed out. “But aside from that, couldn’t you apply this to any city?”

The project now moves from the analysis phase to the mapping and refinement phase, which will include advisory and focus groups and economic development stakeholder meetings, all coming in March. In the spring, the community will have the opportunity to participate in online surveys and evaluations of land-use scenarios.

These all pre-date the goal of developing the comprehensive plan in the late summer and either adopting or rejecting the comprehensive plan, currently penciled in for a winter target date.

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A series of workshops and meetings recapped in a Wednesday presentation for city officials and community leaders show both the optimism and obstacles ahead. The presentation was part of a briefing fr