NOTE: This is the conclusion of an overview that began in Friday’s column. We’re looking at the construction boom in Kootenai County, and the resulting reaction from many residents who complain that our quickly expanding cities are causing massive traffic problems. Many want a halt to building until transportation infrastructure can catch up. So now we’re asking: Is that possible?
There are some undeniable facts in the debate over rapid growth in the county.
One is glaringly obvious, and leaves many residents steaming as they sit in seemingly endless jams on streets and roadways.
Our transportation system, which was designed for a rural county in the 1970s, is no longer adequate.
“It just isn’t. and obviously it takes a lot of money to make all the necessary changes to a system that old,” said Glenn Miles, executive director of the Kootenai Metro Planning Organization.
“Some really important improvements, like speeding up U.S. 95 and widening Highway 41, are already planned with dates and funding, but some others — like adding a lane to I-90 each way between Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene — will require money that we haven’t found yet.
“So the system has fallen behind this growth boom, and we’re trying to catch up.”
In the face of that problem, residents by the dozens write to us and wonder why cities can’t slow down all this development.
What’s the rush?
Well, the reasons are different for various communities.
For instance, Rathdrum is in the process of trying to annex a 152-acre residential development.
“In our case, remember that we’re not a self-sufficient city yet,” said Mayor Vic Holmes. “You can’t buy a new TV in Rathdrum. There aren’t that many places where young people who grow up here can stay and work.
“I’m certainly not some wild agent of growth, but population really does matter. Retailers arrive if you have more people to serve, so we do need to grow, and we need the jobs that would follow.”
CITIES IN Idaho have another incentive to grow.
Sales tax money and other funds — such as the lucrative tax on liquor — are redistributed to cities in a rather unique manner.
“There are some other things in the formula,” said Post Falls Mayor Ron Jacobson, “but the biggest part of it is your population.
“It doesn’t matter where the point of sale might have been, that doesn’t count in the redistribution of sales tax by the state of Idaho. The size of your city is the biggest factor in how much you get.”
Jacobson often uses the word “balance” to describe what he sees as good future growth.
“We’d like to have a solid commercial component, because that’s the proper base for a city,” he said. “That why it’s exciting to have the possibility of this technology park in the city (a massive 831-acre chunk of property along Highway 41 has been proposed as Post Falls Technology Urban Renewal District).
“With that commercial piece, you’re going to need housing for new workers.”
THERE IS one more critical issue that can prevent any halt in growth.
In many cases, it could be illegal.
“This is still America,” Holmes said. “You can’t just deny someone the opportunity to build with no good reason to stop it.”
Warren Wilson, the Post Falls city attorney, tried to put a fairly complicated matter into perspective.
“Every proposal is different,” Wilson said, “but in general, a city can refuse annexation. In our case, though, most of the land where we could see development has already been annexed and zoned.
“You can’t change the rules once someone has already applied (to develop property), unless there is an imminent threat to public safety, health or the welfare of current residents.
“It would have to be something big, like wastewater as an example. But as a rule, you can’t deny the right to growth.”
Yes, traffic could be a reason to stop some development, but only if it exceeded what was studied and approved when a city put together its current master plan.
IN THE case of Post Falls, no planned or present developments fall outside the city’s long-range traffic studies.
Hard to believe when you’re caught in the mess, but …
“There’s no doubt Highway 41 is a disaster,” Jacobson said, “but it’s going to be improved relatively soon. A lot of our residential and commercial development should coincide with the highway work (originally thought to happen earlier, the widening of Highway 41 is now scheduled for the summers of 2020 and 2021).
And by the way, cities like Post Falls, Rathdrum and Hayden could be sued if they did try to stop a legal development, as long as city codes are met and so forth.
“That’s very much in the picture, if you were to deny a developer without true legal cause,” Wilson said.
We hate to be bearers of what a lot of folks will consider bad news, but it looks like we’re stuck with rapid development and the resulting traffic problems — for another two or three years, at least.
As for a moratorium on growth, there’s no feasible way it could happen.
Sorry, but …
This is what can happen in a super place to live.
Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.
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