Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Growth Paradox in Coeur d'Alene Last Week

The following are comments I made at the March 21, 2006 City Council meeting regarding the events of last week in Coeur d'Alene.

Madame Mayor I wanted to talk just a little bit about a few things that happened last week in Coeur d’Alene. I don’t have a motion to introduce, but rather just a few brief comments and a request for some more feedback both here and in the larger community. Councilman McEvers has made mention of the need to try to spur more discussion on some issues facing the city without always having to have a vote on a specific measure, and I agree with him.

Last Tuesday, a week ago today, the Planning and Zoning Commission had a very long hearing covering several items. The same day, School District 271 was holding a school plant facilities levy election.

P&Z was handling two items on their calendar that caught my eye:
1) A request for variance to increase the height on a building on Sherman Avenue that would provide as I understand it 6 new residential units; and
2) A proposed zoning change from agricultural to city residential for annexation which facilitated a preliminary plat request for 867 new units on the prairie.

As the minutes of the P&Z meeting will attest, a number of people spoke against the 6-residential unit proposal downtown and the P&Z commissioners voted the variance down.

Later, though, not one person spoke in opposition to the annexation of the potential 867 residential new units on the prairie.

All the while, the returns were coming in indicating that the voters pretty soundly rejected a new school levy to deal with overcrowding and maintenance of old building issues in the district.

Certainly many folks have varying opinions on why the levy went down, but everyone I talk to seems to at least agree that increasing property taxes and a feeling that “new growth” should be paying for the impact on schools contributed to the levy’s defeat.

But as I read the papers the next day and read the outcome of the P&Z hearing, I couldn’t help but feel that there is a pretty serious disconnect in our community when residents clearly vote down a school levy on the very same day that an 867-unit plat annexation is being unanimously approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission with no discussion or input from residents at all.

No one has all the answers to the complex issue of managing growth effectively – I certainly don’t.

I recognize that currently the school districts cannot charge impact fees at all on new growth, so the burden falls heavily on property taxpayers. I recognize that P&Z has strict rules on what issues they can factor in when making a decision to approve or reject an annexation request. And I recognize that some folks don’t want any new heights downtown while others are very nervous about any new ordinances dealing with height and downtown development in Coeur d’Alene.

I knocked on about 1700 doors during last fall’s campaign, and when I asked regular residents an open ended question about what concerned them most about the community, to a person they talked about growth, taxes, and the changing nature of Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County.

Last week it felt to me like all three of those issues came to a head on the same day. And for lack of a better word it seemed almost schizophrenic to see two competing messages being delivered on the same day in the same city.

Citizens do look to us here, as well as to the School District, the County Commissioners and State Legislators for leadership. So I felt it was important to speak up when I saw this clear paradox in real time, and try to get some input from residents and other elected officials as to how we feel our way forward, trying to manage growth effectively while not choking off any economic expansion or opportunities.

In short, I want to hear what voters and residents are saying and I want to rely on the expertise of folks like the Planning Commissioners as well. But what concerns me is that we appear to be getting, or maybe delivering, two conflicting messages.

So on that note folks may not be prepared to have a longer discussion about it tonight, but I would like to open a discussion about the general issue of growth and how to manage it both with my fellow councilmembers, and with citizens directly. I’m all ears, and I invite people watching to contact me or any of our city councilmembers with input, thoughts, or concerns. I can be reached on my city email address at or by calling me at 664-7976.

Thank you, Madame Mayor for the time to speak.

1 comment:

ThomG said...

Mike, thank you. This issue sits around like the elephant in the living room, it's about time someone acknowledged it.