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Post Falls, Rathdrum reject citizen growth initiatives

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | April 9, 2021 1:00 AM

Kootenai County residents' opposition to growth has hit a new peak as both Post Falls and Rathdrum have received citizen initiatives that aim to limit building developments. 

Both were rejected.

Submitted by Dan Leary on March 4, one initiative outlines a "Responsible Growth Management Plan for the City of Post Falls." As stated in the document, the purpose of this plan is to control the amount and location of residential and hotel developments permitted by the city annually.

This, Leary stated in the application, was in the "interest of advancing the public welfare by ensuring that the City is maintained as a healthy, spacious, clean, well balanced, carefully-controlled community." 

Rathdrum's story is similar, first receiving a six-line document by Michael Fox on March 5. After denying the short petition April 1, City Administrator Leon Duce said Rathdrum received a ballot title request by Fox for an extended version of the document — which happens to be identical to the ordinance submitted by Leary.

Post Falls' response to Leary was dated April 2. While Post Falls city attorney Warren Wilson said the department has not heard whether the applicant will respond, there is still time.

The initiative by Fox was rejected Thursday morning by Rathdrum City Clerk Sherri Halligan. 

"Mr. Fox is not happy that we have rejected his position and is interested in seeking advice from other sources," Duce said.

In essence, both plans seek to preserve the remainder of Post Falls' and Rathdrum's small-town feel by restricting what the applicants call "uncontrolled and rapid growth."

"There has been a lot of grumbles about growth and the need to respond," Duce said. "The city of Rathdrum has felt that we have dealt with growth responsibly. We require developers to pay their fair share. We changed the impact fees for road preparation, so it's coming from growth rather than the taxpayers. We're addressing these issues."

The plan proposed:

• Maintaining the city separate and distinct geographically from other communities

• Emphasizing the preservation of existing open spaces and lands

• Maintaining a balance and mix of housing and building types and values and thus providing a range of prices island rents to accommodate a variety of housing needs

• Providing and maintaining parks and recreation area

• Maintaining and augmenting as needed public utilities and services without detriment to existing dwellings

• Encouraging public schools of high standards and excellence 

To implement these ideas, the ordinances submitted by Leary and Fox suggest the city limit the aggregate number of dwelling units to 100 during a 12-month construction period. Applications for those building permits would also have to be approved by a new group — the allotment committee — in addition to the planning and zoning commission and city council. 

The allotment committee would consist of seven members selected from registered voters in Post Falls who volunteer from an application with the city. The mayor of Post Falls would pick members by pulling names from a glass container. Members would serve a term of two years with even-numbered seats selected in even number years and odd number seats in odd-numbered years. 

Upon further investigation, Post Falls and Rathdrum staff found that the ordinance was a near-exact copy of Boulder City, Nevada's "Controlled Growth Management Plan" Title 11, Chapter 41 of the city code. 

In the 20 years that Wilson has been a city employee, he has never seen a citizen initiative.

"We don't see a lot of local petitions," Wilson said. "We don't honestly see many at the state level, either."

The ability to develop an initiative is baked into Idaho's Constitution and has been amended twice in the last decade. 

Before 2015, Wilson said, cities across the state had their own initiative rules, but the Legislature decided it would make the most sense to develop one uniform set of referendum guidelines.

Those rules were amended again in 2018 to expressly prohibit initiatives dealing with local land use matters based on an Idaho Supreme Court decision, Gumprecht v. Coeur d'Alene.

Based on the review of legislative findings, the Post Falls legal staff's certificate review deemed Leary's initiative "procedurally improper, likely unconstitutional, preempted by State Law, and could expose the city of Post Falls to lawsuits and property takings claims."  

"You can still do initiative to change state law, and you could change the Local Land Use Planning Act by running a statewide initiative," Wilson said. "You just can't change local land use matters through the initiative process." 

Rathdrum rejected Fox's petition through the Local Land Use Planning Act (Idaho Code Chapter 65, Title 67) and Idaho Code Chapter 18, Title 34 on Initiative and Referendum Elections that says citizens cannot file initiatives on "any local zoning legislation." 

"I think we're all seeing and feeling sort of the same stuff," Wilson said. "People are moving. People are putting their homes on the market. The shortage in supply of lumber and steel is making construction more expensive. In a lot of ways, this is a national issue. I think all of us, everyone, wants more sustainable growth." 

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