Rathdrum Council updates codebook
Shannon Belson speaks to Rathdrum City Council on Dec. 14, about a notification of a code violation she received in November asking her to remove her parking structure. She asked clarifying questions to council members, including Mike Hill and John Hodgkins, to help her understand the city code that prohibited the structure that has been there since she bought her home in 2021.
Staff Reporter | December 19, 2022 1:08 AM
Rathdrum has decades-old code and ordinances that are badly in need of an update, said Emily Smith, city attorney.
Council members have approved multiple updates to code and new ordinances throughout the year in zones ranging from residential to industrial, and subjects ranging from food trucks to home offices.
In a city council meeting Wednesday, council members were given a final draft of new Title 15 code to review over Christmas break, and should approve the latest amendments Jan. 11 in a regular meeting, said Leon Duce, city administrator.
The Planning and Zoning department is in the process of updating, reorienting and improving old ordinances that in many cases need to be reworded, or sometimes changed, to better coordinate with other ordinances, Smith said.
The restructure stemmed from a need to reorganize and clarify city code using community input.
“Since first introduced in the early 1980s … the city code has been added to or amended, and after 40 years it was becoming difficult to read,” said Rathdrum City Planner James Agidius.
Planning and Zoning staff started workshops as far back as 2018 to update city code, but the bigger project of entirely restructuring the codebook started when Agidius was hired in January, he said.
Major residential updates
Approved amendments to residential code have relaxed restrictions for homeowners, allowing Accessory Dwelling Units or RV parking structures on residential lots. Before rewrites, no RV parking structures were allowed against a residence, but city ordinances have been adjusted or added to include attached garages for RVs or boats.
“One recreational vehicle, boat or trailer may be stored or parked in an accessory parking area located between the driveway and the nearest side property line,” according to Rathdrum city ordinance in Title 15-6-2.
Prior to the update, RVs were allowed to be stored within fenced backyards, with optional lean-to structures that met setback requirements.
The city is seeing an increase of homeowners with college-aged or elderly family members staying or moving home, Duce said. With increased home prices, an ability to build an ADU is a natural progression of housing demand.
Rathdrum struggles with high demand for housing, Agidius said, and it’s a major problem the city is trying to address.
Some zone definitions were broadened including the residential R-3 zone, which allows triplexes. R-3 was split to add a residential R-3M zone, which allows multi-family housing, with multiplexes of four or more units per parcel, Agidius said.
Developers with an R-3 zone would typically develop the space with single family housing and some duplexes or triplexes, but as home values increase, more developers were adding more apartment complexes on R-3 properties. Adding the R-3M zone allows the city to better control the areas where multiplexes can go to ensure city infrastructure is strong enough in those areas, Duce said.
Another code update adding a new district outlines a mixed residential zone, which requires diverse lot sizes to promote mixed housing.
Mixed residential zones are geared to meet broad demands for housing by adding a range of prices for houses on one subdivision or parcel.
Prior to the rework, code didn’t exist that encompassed the growing demand to work from home since COVID, or the general trend of online businesses or home offices.
Home businesses don’t often require traditional structures, like designated sales areas, delivery access, reception desks or customer drop offs. New ordinances allow small home businesses a more streamlined path for approval with more flexible requirements.
A home business owner “will be able to acquire a (conditional use permit) for the operation of their business at a lower cost, and without the burden of public hearings and appearances before the planning and zoning commission or City Council,” Agidius said.
Major industrial and Commercial updates
Rathdrum Council members also approved dividing the industrial zone classification to create a heavy industrial zone, or HI. The heavy industrial is intended to better limit residential uses in industrial areas, and to reduce the impact of industry on residential areas, according to Rathdrum City Code Title 15-4-1.
Growing popularity of food trucks and mobile food service hadn’t been adequately addressed in aging codes, so new ordinancess were approved allowing food courts in Rathdrum.
Mobile food courts can be constructed in commercial or industrial areas with enough space to accommodate at least three food trucks, and with an approved conditional use permit, Agidius said.
There must be enough space in a food court for each vendor to have three parking spaces, and any food court must have a permanent bathroom for employees and patrons.
To unify city streets, standards for city sidewalks, landscaping and water runoff were outlined for any new property developments, for consistent connections. The ordinances require property owners to incorporate walking spaces, bike paths and green spaces as they develop that will seamlessly join with neighboring properties.
Major planned updates
The goals for 2023 include updating the codebook to form a “Highway Commercial Overlay District” along Highways 41 and 53, Agidius said.
“This would not be a new zoning district, but is intended at this time to add design or site development criteria to those properties as they are developed in the future, to provide green and welcoming highway frontages to the City,” he said.
The Overlay District standards would increase landscaping requirements, add bike and pedestrian paths and allow upper floors in commercial buildings to include residences. It would also prohibit the creation of frontage roads along the highways to maintain landscaped visual standards.
Moving forward, the Planning and Zoning Department will continue to work on code overhauls that improve readability and consistency of city ordinances.
“The overhaul or reorganization of our zoning code … is an effort to make that code more readable and understandable to the layperson,” Agidius said. “It began as an effort to make our code more user-friendly and more understandable to the common person, not just developers and design professionals.”
Breaking the rules
“All we can really do as a city is just send letters,” Smith said in a regular council meeting Oct. 26.
Violations to city code were unenforceable and depended on the good will of citizens to comply, Agidius said, unless they moved to a misdemeanor and to the courts.
Members of the council approved ordinances that would impose fines for code violations, and civil penalties to allow an alternative to escalating infractions to a misdemeanor charge.
Council members have approved reforms moving away from misdemeanors for several years, to lift some weight off the court systems, but that left a gap in enforcement when infractions could still move to the court, just without access to a public defender, Duce said.
“With that issue there was more of an emphasis to work on penalties as an infraction,” Duce said. “What we’re trying to do is move away from the heavy handed force of government and more into (civil penalties).”
This allows people to pay any civil penalties at Rathdrum City Hall directly to the city.
Councilman Neil Oliver requested a review of the penalty process in late August or early September of 2023 to assess the effectiveness and reasonableness of the code enforcement revisions.
Smith and Agidius will present findings to city council members then.