Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Growth group could prove invaluable

| March 28, 2021 1:00 AM

The Press recently called upon readers to submit questions they’d like us to include in a survey on growth.

And boy, did they.

The questions, like housing on the prairie, were all over the place.

Some queries were clear, concise and zero in on one specific thing. Example: “How long have you lived in North Idaho?”

Others were, well, head-scratchers. Example: “WHY hasn’t Lake Coeur d’Alene been included in the SUPER FUND SITE?”

Still other questions are the reason behind today’s editorial. They’re asking about steps officials could take to better manage growth, but in some cases, the steps are already in place or are not allowed by state law. Example: “Should there be municipal initiatives on ballots to allow voters to have a say in annexation and zoning ordinance density and type?”

(Answer: Idaho Code 34-1801B and IC 34-1801C prohibit using initiatives to change local zoning regulations.)

Once The Press had compiled all the reader-submitted questions for consideration in a public survey, the newspaper shared them with officials from Kootenai County, Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls, Hayden and Rathdrum. We asked them to go through the questions and highlight those whose answers would not currently be legally allowed, as in the municipal initiative example above.

That feedback helped us understand why a new coalition has formed — not to solve local growth problems, but to improve communication and share information, which could lead to growth that most folks would feel is well-managed.

Because cities and the county all have different and sometimes conflicting rules and long-range plans, somebody needs to get them talking to each other, and this new group could be that somebody.

The group is comprised of planners and, at least loosely, some elected leaders. Its only meeting so far was less than two weeks ago, so these are early days. To be credible and effective, the group will need strong representation from the general public — people like Ed DePriest, who has amassed an army of citizens concerned about the way our region is growing and is dedicated to ensuring the public's voice is heard.

That said, expert voices should not be ignored simply because they're part of the formal planning structure. Their knowledge should not be discounted because they're "insiders." A balance of experts and concerned citizens will help ensure all interests are represented.

A survey is coming. Before that, though, let's work together to understand existing rules so we can figure out which to keep and which need to change.