The fourth (count ’em!) draft of a new Kootenai County Comprehensive Plan is set for yet another hearing Tuesday at 5pm. However, with the same three commissioners who took a year to edit draft number three, now considering their own draft number four, we don’t expect them to make major changes, or take the time to do major re-writes. KEA will certainly attend the upcoming hearing, we will submit comments, and we will plead our case with the commissioners. But we will not be holding our breath.
From a substantive perspective, the VAST majority of the changes the commissioners made to draft three of the comp plan are inconsequential. Of the more significant changes: (1) there was a substantial re-write of the planned communities concept, most of which will not matter, (2) the commissioners attempted to address concerns raised by the mayors of the prairie municipalities (and shared by KEA), but didn’t do a great job of it, and (3) they took all the development densities out of the plan, which is a huge and unnecessary mistake. The density decisions can be made in the zoning code revision process, but it is substantially more difficult to do so.
From a practical perspective, however, there will be at least one new commissioner after this upcoming election — to be held exactly one week after the hearing. On the one hand, a new set of commissioners may be able to correct the mistakes in the comp plan made by the current combination of incumbent commissioners. On the other hand, doing so will extend the incredibly long process even further. So the question becomes: Is the county better off if the plan is adopted now, finally, as is? Or should the county make comp plan fixes with the incoming commissioners, even if it requires us to wait for them to take office, hold hearings, and go through yet another process of making comp plan changes?
Of course, the next, more important step in the county’s land use reform process — redrafting the zoning and development ordinances – is something that really needs to be done. Our current, horribly out-of-date zoning code dates to the 1970s.
So our view on the practical question is increasingly that Kootenai County just needs to get to the next step of revising the zoning code, and we all just need to be done with the comp plan dithering. The tough decisions over development densities have been kicked down the road by this set of Commissioners. At this point, we’re prepared to go down the road with the new Commissioners, and get those decisions made once and for all in a new zoning code.
Overall, if it were getting letter grades, this fourth comp plan draft would get about a C-minus … which is to maybe to say it’s a pretty lousy grade, but it is enough to graduate.