Kootenai Environmental Alliance has a very busy land use program, but as a general rule, we don’t weigh in on subdivision applications in Kootenai County. Mostly because we’re a small busy non-profit – there are only so many battles we can fight.
The main reason for drawing the line at subdivisions is that under current county code (the subdivision ordinance — a very large pdf), subdivisions are almost always approved. If the proposal simply meets a checklist of requirements, and it is no more dense than the underlying zoning would allow, the subdivision is probably going to be approved. We’ve certainly thought that the subdivision regulations should be tightened, but until that occurs (perhaps now that the comprehensive plan is done, it could happen soon), we’ve generally avoided the usually-losing battles over individual subdivisions.
So it was with some astonishment that local attorney Scott Reed proudly brought to our attention the case of the Hemlock Hills subdivision, rejected last week by a Kootenai County hearing examiner. In what he called a “delightful surprise,” Scott Reed pointed out that the opposition to the 34-lot subdivision above Hayden Lake was simply a collection of concerned residents, whose testimony clearly and simply highlighted the fatal faults in the subdivision application. All too often, testimony by non-professionals is criticized and discounted by the applicant’s paid professionals, as if an engineer’s seal, or advanced degree should be a prerequisite to stating otherwise obvious facts in a County land use hearing. But the non-professional residents simply went through the subdivision checklist and testified as to where the application fell short.
In this instance, the hearing examiner followed the testimony of the opponents and took note that the project places the development on very steep slopes. All the lots were located on slopes in excess of 15%, with more than a third of the lots on slopes in excess of 35%. The hearing examiner pointed out problems with erodible soils, roadway construction, setbacks, stormwater, the water table, and a failure to provide sufficient information about traffic mitigation. Indeed, the hearing examiner stated flatly, “The subdivision has not been demonstrated to create lots of reasonable utility and livability, capable of being built upon without imposing an unreasonable burden on future owners.”
From the hearing examiner’s opinion, it seems utterly obvious that this subdivision shouldn’t be built. But sometimes, with all the engineers and lawyers and “design professionals” purchased by the developer and involved in a typical land use hearing, it takes neighbors and citizens to stand up and state the obvious. Our congratulations to them.