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From the Planner's Corner

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Zoning is a tool

    For the majority of people, the single most important investment made in their lifetime is the purchase of property. With that purchase, people expect their interests to be protected, and their investment secured. This is where planning and zoning plays a critical role. Land use planning protects property rights and enhances property values by providing for orderly, predictable development. Land use planning has been required in Idaho since 1975, when the legislature adopted the Local Land Use Planning Act. The legislature concluded that land use planning “shall be to promote the health, safety and general welfare of the people of the state of Idaho.”

    Cities and counties adopt comprehensive plans that establish a vision for how an area is to develop. These plans indicate what kinds of land uses are best suited for certain areas, such as where commercial and industrial centers should develop, where housing tracts are most compatible, and where open space should be set aside. Bonner County has had a comprehensive plan since 1978. They are implemented by zoning codes and subdivision standards.

    “Zoning” is a term used to describe what kinds of land uses best fit in a defined area, or “district,” based on the vision set forth in the comprehensive plan. Zoning districts may include residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural, to name a few. A residential zoning district may provide for single family housing, a commercial zone for retail centers, an industrial zone for manufacturing businesses and an agricultural zone for farm related occupations. Bonner County adopted zoning codes in 1980 and a zoning map in 1981.

    Zoning is the main tool used to protect property rights and enhance property values. Zoning provides for the separation of incompatible uses, like houses next to farms or factories, and for the grouping of similar uses, like mini-markets next to gas stations. When land owners inquire about what’s occurring on their neighbor’s property, it’s usually related to activities that are occurring contrary to zoning, such as a junk yard in a residential neighborhood, or a commercial businesses in an agricultural or rural area. These contrary uses can affect property rights, and likewise can lower property values. Zoning also establishes how big a parcel needs to be for subdivision purposes (“lot size minimums”), and how far buildings need to be placed from property lines (“setbacks”).

    Subdivisions occur when one piece of land is split into two or more pieces of land. As important as zoning, subdivision codes set forth how land is to be divided so that each piece when all isd said and done is usable, and doesn’t unnecessarily infringe on neighboring property rights. This is accomplished by having road standards, lot size minimums, and design criteria so that subdivisions aren’t created that are unusable because of inadequate roads, lots that are too small, or unusually shaped lots that can’t be developed. Many of Bonner Count’s lake front subdivisions, for example, occurred when there were no subdivision or zoning codes in place, the result being lots that have substandard access, lots that are too small to be built on, or lots that are of such an impractical shape that property lines have to be adjusted to provide usable  building areas. Bonner County has had subdivision codes in place since 1978.


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Author info

Marty Taylor Marty Taylor is (was) the Planning Director for Bonner County.

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