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Growth: Survey says, coordinate effort

Staff Writer | May 11, 2021 1:09 AM

If survey results are any indication, just the act of collaborating is the right step forward for a group seeking solutions to North Idaho’s growth crisis.

A recent survey asked participants to rank the Regional Housing and Growth Partnership’s priorities. The group — which consists of local municipal planners, city and county officials, and leaders from the business community — offered respondents a variety of choices, including a focus on water conservation, transportation choices, and an emphasis on potential legislative actions, among others.

But the top choice in every demographic started with a coordinated planning effort to address growth and protect open space.

“I thought it was really interesting to see how everyone ranked the commonality between the top choices,” said Hilary Anderson, community planning director for the city of Coeur d’Alene. “How everybody ranked the priority on the planning efforts to preserve open space was very interesting.”

While not every community voted uniformly with order of the seven priorities, every community — Coeur d’Alene, Dalton Gardens, Hauser, Hayden, Post Falls, Rathdrum, unincorporated Kootenai County and other jurisdictions — all listed a “coordinated planning effort between the county and cities to address growth and open space on the prairie” as the top priority moving forward.

Just as encouraging as a universal top priority to the Partnership was the strong participation of 2,657 respondents.

“I was extremely pleased and validated by the number of people who responded,” Kiki Miller, Coeur d’Alene City Council member and spokesperson for the Partnership, told The Press Monday. “We had a terrific response on that poll.”

After that top spot to consider a consolidated and coordinated effort to deal with growth issues, however, things became muddy. Housing, for example, was ranked a close second place by Coeur d’Alene residents, but smaller communities like Dalton Gardens and Rathdrum de-prioritized housing, instead recommending the group focus on other issues like transportation.

While Coeur d'Alene residents ranked housing as an important issue — second overall — affordable housing was a split issue in Post Falls, with 79 of its 489 respondents marking it as the most important choice but 81 marking housing fifth overall.

Growth’s impact on schools came in consistently high among most of the communities: In Hayden, for example, 184 of the town’s 424 respondents marked schools first or second on the 1-7 list of priorities.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see schools ranked so high,” Anderson said.

One priority that didn’t gain traction in the survey was the suggestion of legislative action to aid in growth management. Each community de-prioritized legislative action to the sixth-most important on the list, with the exception of Hauser, which saw as many town survey takers — a total of six — mark the issue as fifth-most important as sixth-most.

Miller said the survey was an illuminating window into how growth is weighing on different communities, something she said was at times predictable and at times surprising.

“I think the group was a little surprised that schools came out a little higher than housing,” she said. “But that’s good information we’ll consider moving forward.”

Miller said that the survey is by no means the final say in how the Partnership will make its decisions.

“I think it’s important to remember: This information is fluid,” she said. “We’re going to continue reaching out to the community for input.”

The group was born in 2020 as population surges were already reaching untenable levels before the pandemic sent an influx of new residents to North Idaho.

The group took shape in March with a series of workshops before the Partnership held its first official meeting on April 26. Miller said the Partnership is not just talking, but rather trying to develop ways to arrest a growth problem that reaches all facets of modern life in North Idaho.

“We aren’t just debating and having dialogue,” she said. “We’re moving forward with recommendations and outreach.”