By Zach Hagadone
Sandpoint city councilors unanimously approved a code amendment on March 16, replacing existing building setbacks along Sand Creek with a new section that prohibits construction within 25 feet of the high water mark, requires a vegetative buffer or storm water treatment system if necessary, permits before any dirt can be turned along the creek, and greater coordination with state and federal agencies regarding impacts to the watercourse.
The code amendment has drawn months of public comment since it was first presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission in September, with many residents fearing it could pave the way for “overdevelopment” along the creek. It has since been filed, recommended for rejection by P&Z, and subjected to workshops and stakeholder meetings.
City staff explained that the amendment became necessary during the preliminary implementation of the Farmin’s Landing phase of the project, as described in the downtown waterfront component of the Buildings Master Plan. parks and recreation 2020. This part of the plan provides for storm water treatment along the creek, but also an array of public amenities including a plaza and other public gathering places.
These elements of the master plan would not be possible under the current code, which triggered a months-long review process of amending the code to allow the construction of “structures” such as patios in the setback, but “buildings” must be authorized or a conditional use permit at least, and a prohibition at most.
“At no time did this code change allow private development to build in the creek,” Director of Infrastructure and Development Amanda Wilson said in February. “It was in no way, shape or form how it started.”
The code change would apply to public and private properties in Commercial Zones A and B along Sand Creek as far north as Highway 200 and the Popsicle Bridge.
Councilor Jason Welker, who served as P&Z Commission chairman when the code amendment first surfaced in September, pointed out that his earlier incarnation would have allowed building up to the high water mark, whereas the version before the March 16 council was actually stronger. overdevelopment protection than the current code.
Addressing citizens opposed to the code change, he said, “I believe your concerns about the overdevelopment of our downtown waterfront are justified. It is highly likely that almost the entire commercial waterfront between Bridge Street and Cedar Street will be sold, demolished and rebuilt over the next 10 years. The same could happen south of Bridge Street.
However, he added, rejecting the code change “would do nothing to stop the development of downtown Sandpoint – it would only allow that development to take place with less citizen oversight, less protection. water quality and less assurance that public access to Sand Creek will be maintained, let alone improved.
Testimony either opposed approval of the amendment or centered on pleas for the council to take more time to incorporate provisions incentivizing public access as part of a future development.
Chase Youngdahl of Sandpoint said that because the city’s overall plan hasn’t been fully updated since 2009, setting new code requirements on Sandpoint “puts the horses before the cart.”
Additionally, he questioned whether the emphasis on public gathering spaces on the waterfront was truly in keeping with the spirit of the community’s stated desire to support the downtown core and preserve its small-town feel. .
“It almost feels like it’s trying to capture the big city vibe of Venice, Italy, or the San Antonio River Walk,” he said. “It goes against the small town vibe.”
Sandpoint resident Pam Duquette said she was concerned about allowing any structure within the 25-foot setback, whether through a conditional use permit or not.
“I think this will set a precedent for other encroaching developments along Sand Creek,” she said.
Patty Shook of Sandpoint was concerned that she would no longer be able to access the Sand Creek bike path through the current Gunning’s Alley parking area, but mostly expressed concern that Sand Creek would become even more inviting for boat traffic motorized with increased mooring. — adding to water pollution and erosion — and that the future of the waterfront will include high-rise luxury condos along the creek and downtown.
“We want to keep Sandpoint soft,” she said.
Steve Holt of the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper said he appreciates the work the staff have put into the amendment over the past few months and that his organization has been supportive. However, he said some further changes were needed, particularly in the area of incentivizing public access, as development inevitably occurs along the creek.
Molly McCahon of the Lakes Commission spoke directly against the amendment, saying, “It currently lacks clarity, purpose and bite.
Echoing Youngdahl’s comments, she said the code change “puts the cart before the horse” and that the city’s stormwater ordinance should first be rewritten and strengthened. She also questioned the conditional use license process as a safeguard against overdevelopment, noting that often approval standards are “very subjective.”
“It’s an opportunity to look at Sand Creek realistically and plan for the future,” McCahon said.
After the public hearing closed, Councilor Joel Aispuro asked, “What’s the rush?” Am I missing something here? Is there an immediate need to push this or consider the concerns expressed here? »
City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said there is some urgency as the budget for the design of Farmin’s Landing, as well as related stormwater management, has already been approved by council and the limbo the code amendment has been in for several months is delaying the project — “including a bank stabilization project that depends on it.”
Wilson added that focusing on the stormwater ordinance first would add months, if not years, to the Sand Creek code change review process. In the meantime, the existing code leaves the waterfront open to even more intrusive development.
“Our hope is that this order will buy us some time,” she said. “I think it’s a short-term improvement. … It won’t be the ‘eternal code’.
Welker doubled down on his argument that putting the amendment in place now provides greater protection for the creek, given that the current rules do not require a vegetative buffer, or any sort of stormwater attenuation.
“The current code does nothing,” he said, later adding, “It’s a temporary stopgap to ensure that development that does occur goes through a more rigorous public process.”