The ink is barely dry on the new Kootenai County comprehensive plan, but it’s been in the works so long, it’s as if we can’t stop working on it. The next step, of course, is for the county to re-write the zoning and development regulations to come into accord with the new plan. County officials and local leaders are evaluating potential consultants to help with the re-write this week.
Because the County Commissioners avoided putting development densities in the comprehensive plan, clearly that will be a point of contention as the regulations get written. But what else? Here is an initial list of things to watch in the regulations, but we’d like to hear your concerns too:
1. Rural densities – this was a battle that was fought to a draw in the comprehensive plan. In our view, rural character requires rural development densities. The current allowed density of one unit per five acres is too dense to be truly rural, and not dense enough for efficient growth patterns over the long term.
2. Shoreline regulation – the new comp plan provides a lot of soft language purporting to protect our waterbodies. But to do so legitimately, the development regulations will need to be much stronger than they are now. Currently the county relies on strict and cumbersome development limits in a very narrow buffer strip along shorelines and stream banks. A proven better solution, for builders and waterways alike, would be to control development on a much larger buffer, but allow more building flexibility within the buffer too.
3. Form-based development codes – The city of Post Falls recently adopted “Smart Code” regulations, an innovative and different approach to development regulation being adopted in many communities around the Country. Rather than zoning which relies on the regulation of the “use” of the property, the regulations deal with the “form” of the development to make a more integrated and coherent community. To use a recent fiasco in the County as an example, rather than trying to determine the proper zoning regulations to apply to something described as a “party barn” in a rural zone, a form based code would use more general performance standards — for building design, parking, noise, setbacks, signage, landscaping, traffic, etc. – appropriate for any type of development in a rural zone. In this regard, we think Kootenai County has the opportunity to do something smart and innovative, if it chooses to do so.
4. The zoning map – The text of the development regulations will apply to properties according to zones actually drawn on a county map. This is, of course, where the impacts to individual properties will be felt. But it is also where impacts to our resources will occur if the map is too accommodating to development interests. It will be important that the map keep high-density development where it is appropriate and provide specific resource protections to the specific locations where they are most needed.
5. Grandfathering – We expect (and hope) that a lot of properties currently zoned for higher sprawl-level densities will be zoned for lower rural densities under the new code. We expect that some property owners will lobby to have the higher development potential grandfathered into the new zoning. The types of properties (and property owners) which will be eligible for grandfathering, and the circumstances and time limits under which it will be allowed will be a source of controversy. As a general rule in any rezoning exercise, the less grandfathering, the better.