Archive for March, 2010

After worrying yesterday that we were being excluded from a “Community Development Forum” sponsored by the County Commissioners, we are pleased to say that got our invite emailed to us this morning.  Evidently, a posting at Huckleberries Online alerted the County to its unfortunate oversight.  We look forward to being an official participant.

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We aren’t taking it personally, but we didn’t receive our invitation by the County Commissioners “to the County’s development and construction communities” to attend a “Community Development Forum” on Monday evening, April 5th, at 5 pm. 

Given the lack or progress on the Comprehensive Plan, the failure to address dysfunctional hearing procedures, and major functional failings in the site disturbance and flood control ordinances, we’d definitely be interested in “this important opportunity”  to “share and hear the constructive thoughts and ideas of others regarding the building process here in Kootenai County.” 

We’re probably not the target audience, but the Commissioners promise “an open atmosphere for the community to openly share,” so maybe we’ll attend anyway.

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As Mayor Bloem put it, “this isn’t the first time [McEuen Field and park] has been talked about and it won’t be the last.” But it was an impressive show last night at the open workshop sponsored by the City of Coeur d’Alene on design possibilities for the treasured downtown park.

 The Mayor emphasized that there is no set plan for McEuen Park at this point, “There’s been planning, but no plan.” But she acknowledged that some concepts are likely to be lifted from previous planning efforts.

McEuen Field Workshop -- Photo by KEA BlackberryCam

At first, I was put off by the place-the-dots-on-the-poster activity prior to the start of the event.  Yet, the workshop itself was quite impressive. Masterfully facilitated by out-of-town firm MIG, the workshop led attendees through an exercise to rate “visual preferences” for potential park designs and amenities. Then the facilitator led the audience – a nearly full crowd at Lake City Senior Center – through a discussion of what the “character” of the park should be, as the “note-taker” did a semi-impromptu live illustration of the park plans being discussed.

 The workshop mined some excellent ideas for connectivity, integration with Tubbs Hill, better connection to the lakefront, winter activities, and new features. There was some comments advocating for retaining traditional uses in traditional ways, but it was clear that at least this workshop audience was open to change and new ideas.

Note-taking -- photo by KEA BlackberryCam

 Most encouraging, a young skateboarder suggested that parking for the park be relocated closer to City Park and NIC – so as to serve a dual purpose of helping to solve an NIC parking crunch and to get people walking through the commercial district to get to the park. Another suggestion was to eliminate ALL of the parking except for senior and handicapped parking, which seems like a great idea to me. Except for one comment about operations at the boat launch, there seemed to be little disagreement that the vast swath of paved parking should be reclaimed for park purposes.

 If nothing else, the workshop opened some eyes to what might be possible. Like last year’s workshop on the education corridor (that final report is here — a big pdf) , the independent and capable out-of-towners of MIG, were able to provide visual reference points for modern and high-quality design. In doing so, they were able to move the discussion from simply rehabbing a park, to creating a great public space worthy of one of the greatest park settings in the country.

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Basketball, basketball, basketball, and this stuff:

We look forward to this local 3-minute film festival — City of Coeur d’Alene

Prescribed burns would cut wildfire carbon footprint — Yale Environment 360

The Idaho legislature plays fast and loose with the Panhandle Health District’s aquifer protection rules. But maybe a stronger DEQ role would help?  — Spokesman Review

Speaking of septics rules and water quality … the complex Spokane River TMDL has been refered back to Washington’s Department of Ecology for reconsideration under a formal dispute resolution process. The Spokane River Forum (sponsor of a big Spokane River Conference this coming week) has the documents for review here and here.

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The Board of County Commissioners finally put the kibosh on a request for a variance under the site disturbance ordinance.  As we’ve written before, there’s no such thing under current county law.  By a vote of 2-1 this morning, the BOCC denied the variance to Timber Ridge, LLC for a tram landing and pathway on the shores of Hayden Lake.

 Commissioner Rick Currie agreed with KEA testimony and the hearing examiner’s determination that there is no site disturbance variance under the law.  Currie said the ordinance “needs work” but that there was no way to grant the request under the current code.  Commissioner Rich Piazza voted against the request too, commenting however that the applicant simply failed to prove that the variance was necessary for the project.

 Commissioner Tondee, on the other hand, agreed with a county attorney’s tortured legal interpretation that the site disturbance variance request was really a “bulk and placement” or “setback” variance request under the zoning code. Of course, that’s not what the application said, and that’s not what the applicant’s representative communicated to the BOCC at the public hearing.  Luckily for Tondee (and the County attorney), he was outvoted this time.

 In theory, the applicant may appeal the decision to a court. Regardless of the outcome, this case should signal to the Commissioners that they really need to get on with the business of fixing the outmoded county codes.

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The Kootenai County Commissioners still have a LONG way to go, but at this morning’s deliberation of the draft comprehensive plan, some actual glimmers of progress were detected. Today, the Commissioners largely completed deliberations on “planned communities,” one of the more difficult and controversial parts of the draft plan.

 The Commissioners have been struggling for several meetings with the concepts of “planned communities” and “rural villages” as envisioned by the draft plan.  Today, the Commissioners combined the two designations, which were distinct in the draft, into one, more all-encompassing designation. They also clarified that such intensive developments should require sewer systems as opposed to scattered septic systems.

 The Commissioners also retained language that would require such large developments to “pay their own way” when it comes to utilities and public services. However, the Commissioners were uncertain that they had the tools to enforce such requirements on any particular development. Impact fees alone, for example, would be insufficient in many instances.

 Procedurally, it should be noted that the Commissioners consciously attempted to only “give direction” during today’s deliberations, and tasked planning staff to do any necessary cutting, pasting and editing. Whether this approach to their deliberations will continue, and whether this will speed things along, remains to be seen. (Like, hopefully, the Commissioners will not have a need to “re-deliberate” the staff’s wordsmithed version.)  The next deliberations are scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday) evening.

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We were pleased last week, at the noon meeting at the Iron Horse, to be joined by Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem, who gave us a very straightforward accounting of the city’s approach to improvements at McEuen Field – the park area which serves as gateway to treasured Tubbs Hill and the city’s namesake lake, and which contains beloved ballfields, playgrounds and open space.  

 Mayor Bloem said that the city is in the very early stages of opening up the discussion on what, if anything, should be done to the landmark park. The Mayor said that a process of planning, review, and open facilitated meetings is likely to begin soon. The Mayor emphasized that there are no preconceived notions, nor are there any binding plans adopted by any prior city council. She did note that the City had adopted seven “values” to which any renovation must abide – the most important of which would probably be that any changes would require “equal or better” replacement.

 The Mayor described the changes that have occurred over the last 10 years that prompt some fresh consideration – for example, the higher density of residential living nearby, the popularity of the nearby library and its programming, and the increased demand for organized sports. The Mayor also discussed the difficult issue of parking.  She wondered, as do we, whether so much parking is necessary on one of the most important and most beautiful locations in the city.  

 Indeed, we tend to think that the current site provides a considerable over-abundance of substantially under-priced parking. There are dozens of better locations for parking in the many under-utilized lots in the downtown area. Alternate locations for parking would not only free up gateway greenspace in the park, but would also funnel foot traffic through the downtown merchant corridor boosting business activity.

 In any event, let the discussions begin!  We look forward to participating in the conversations about McEuen Field and the immediate surroundings. We’re confident that our great downtown park can be even greater.

UPDATE:  From the CDA webpage:

On Thursday, March 25th, at 6:00 p.m., at the Lake City Senior Center, a public meeting/workshop will be held to gather input and ideas on McEuen Field and Front Avenue. MIG, a Portland-based land planning firm that worked on the Coeur d’Alene Parks Master Plan and the Education Corridor, will be hosting this workshop.The city is asking for citizens’ ideas on their favorite existing and possible future activities for McEuen Field, which has been the site of many varied types of recreation and leisure over the past 100 years. It will remain a public park and there may be improvements made to the park site.

In 2002, a revised park concept was submitted by the city-appointed Committee of Nine. At that time, a set of seven, value statements were adopted. Those value statements will be on display to confirm that they still apply to this waterfront park area. Front Avenue has been targeted for re-construction for the past several years and will be part of the larger, McEuen project discussion.

For more information, please call the Parks Department at 769-2252.

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There’s still  time to support critical habitat protections for bull trout. According to Idaho Rivers United, almost 10,000 miles of rivers and 200,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs across Idaho are at stake. Here are some more details to help craft your comments.

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Winter never arrived but spring to be delayed this week? While we’re waiting here’s what we’re reading:

Obama to create new National Monuments?  Here’s a list of possibilities. — New West

Scientific fact: “conservation funding and reform-minded zoning decrease per capita open space loss.” — PloSOne

Idaho facing anniversary of a big fire in a summer of big fire? — Idaho Statesman

Backcountry logging won’t solve beetle problems. — Snake River Dispatches

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Commissioner Rick Currie in Comp Plan deliberations 3/2/2010 -- In fairness, he is NOT actually asleep.

Today, Board of County Commissioners Chairman Rick Currie lashed back at the increasing wave of criticism over the long slow failure to make progress on Kootenai County’s comprehensive plan. Prior to the start of today’s meeting, Currie complained about “misinformation” being spread by “the powers that be.”

In response to a particularly toughly-worded opinion piece by former Planning Commissioner Kathlene Kolts complaining about a lack of engagement in the process by two of the three commissioners, Commissioner Currie said that the Board gave “direction” to the Planning Commission “a number of times.” but then Currie admitted that he “didn’t completely read” the previous drafts of the plan, but had only “scanned” them.

Then the long slow failure continued.  At the meeting’s end, Chairman Currie noted, “Gentlemen, we have not accomplished a lot today.” Indeed, attendees can report Currie’s statement as an understatement for today’s progress on the comp plan. In the 90 minute meeting, the Commissioners made no decisions whatsoever, and failed to even turn a single page in their line-by-line deliberations of the draft comp plan.

So now, after nine months of deliberations, the conservation community still has no idea whether these commissioners are committed to protecting natural resources and rural communities. The building community has no idea where they are headed or when they are going to get there. And the broader citizenry is wondering where their leadership is.

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