Thursday, October 21, 2021
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Higher density a key part of good growth

| October 13, 2021 1:00 AM

Let’s see what we can agree on.

Traffic sucks. Yes?

When it comes to building community, owner-occupied homes are ideal, right? We can agree on that.

These are folks who plant firm roots here and for years fork over property taxes to keep those overburdened roads in good shape, to hire police and firefighters and provide the expensive equipment they need to do their jobs, to ensure our schools are staffed with excellent teachers, to build and maintain beautiful parks and libraries, and much more.

So when we begin to apply pressure on the brakes slowing what many perceive as runaway growth, how hard do we push? Here’s where disagreement gets stronger. Some have that brake pedal to the metal; others are a little or a lot more deliberate.

While it’s a hot-button campaign issue at the moment, growth has been the most dominant overall issue throughout Kootenai County for several years now. One of the battle lines that’s been scratched in the prairie dirt is low density, owner-occupied homes vs. high density rentals: You know, houses vs. apartments.

While we can agree that owner-occupied, single-family homes are the backbone of a community, there are strong arguments that our region needs other kinds of housing. In our view, the most potent pitch for decent apartments is this: Where else are our children and grandchildren going to live if they want to be close to us? (And here's another thing we can all agree on: They shouldn't live in our basements.)

Some of the loudest voices against higher density construction — not all, but some — are coming from established residents who had no problem buying their home, which now is likely worth three or four times what they paid for it. But how many locals can afford today’s purchase prices? Very few, particularly among younger couples and families.

Loud voices also are coming from some of our recent arrivals, retirees who sold high in California, Portland and Seattle and bought relatively low in Kootenai County. If you listen carefully, some of these voices are the least understanding when they’re inconvenienced. They haven’t connected the dots that by fighting against high-density development, they’re basically damaging the local service sector. Service industry employees need a place to live, and we have yet to meet one who can afford a $500,000 house.

The solution is that both sides must compromise. In Hayden, for example, long-range planning can’t leave out higher density development but it can balance the needs of the community as a whole, and planning can reflect that. In fact, that’s exactly what’s happening now.

Citizens are becoming much more engaged in how our region is growing, and that’s a huge plus. We encourage continued, respectful discussion and debate, but caution that sufficient housing for all ages, income levels and, yes, political beliefs must be part of the solution.