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Clark Fork Looking to be Next Sun Valley?

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Clark Fork Looking to be Next Sun Valley?

700 Percent Increase in Zoning Regulations Generates Controversy

 

With a total population of 530 people in the last census, an average of 241 households, the turnout of 80 people at a Clark Fork city workshop on zoning regulations might have come as a surprise to city council members. But with a plan to increase zoning regulations from nine pages to 75, including items like time lines for when residents must remove Christmas lights, and color-coordination of homes and outbuildings, only the most politically naive would have been unprepared for such a turnout.

And what a turnout it was. A room full of regular citizens upset and dismayed over regulations they viewed as unrealistic, unenforceable, and most of all unnecessary, versus a city council who wants to guide their community into the new century while guarding against the pitfalls of the old that allowed the creation of unbuildable and unsafe pieces of property, and left Clark Fork, in many areas, looking less than attractive.

“We found out about this (the new ordinances) when we wanted to survey our place,” said Clark Fork resident Gail Brashear. “What they’re trying to do to us is not right.”

Brashear began calling friends and neighbors to let them know what was going on, and to encourage their attendance at the next council meeting. “We had about 20 people show up and the council tabled the new ordinance. We posted fliers all over town before the next meeting, and had over 80 people show up to talk about their concerns.”

That meeting was heated, with suggestions made that council members and ordinance advisor Dave Reynolds “go back where you came from.”

“These ordinances simply do not reflect what the people of Clark Fork want to see happen in their town,” Brashear stated. (For community reaction, see “Community Uproar” on page one.)

Councilman Russ Schenck admitted that the ordinances had not been developed by a trained planner and Mayor Tom Shields stated that a local planner who looked through the proposal characterized the ordinances as “ambitious.” But, he added, “No one wants to hurt the people of Clark Fork. Our intent is to make sure the growth coming our way will be managed in a way that benefits the town and its residents. We weren’t looking to create problems for our current residents.”

Schenck said the council requested copies of ordinances from small towns (under 500 population) throughout Idaho. “We started with a 300 page document and whittled it down.”

Shields said that while the committee did not consider any specific, objective criteria when determining whether an ordinance was worthy of adoption, “We looked at the ordinances of other cities and the ordinance of Clark Fork to address current development needs and also to try to predict as many of the future development needs as we could. We chose the parts of those ordinances that we thought would apply, sometimes changing the wording to fit Clark Fork’s situation. Our goal was to look at the property interests of the whole city and not just individual interests here and there.”

Residents question what other small cities in Idaho have ordinances requiring “complimentary” paint colors, for example, on homes and garages, or landscaping requirements so specific that they require landscaping in buffer zones be “60 percent evergreen.”

“Did these ordinances come from some super-wealthy community? They don’t seem typical for a small town,” Brashear said.

The mayor said he couldn’t remember which towns they obtained ordinances from, but added it wasn’t “important” where the ordinances came from as they adopted only those they felt would apply to Clark Fork.

“The ordinances do seem to be more of a type associated with a gated community,” said Bonner County Commissioner Lewis Rich, who was contacted by community members about this issue.

Community concern centers around a few specific areas in and around the proposed zoning changes. The first was community notification.

“I had no idea this was going on until I saw (Brashear’s) flyer,” said Bob Hays, owner of Hays Chevron.

While the council pointed out that legal notice was given of each meeting (via posting in the local post office), community members said they had no idea the council was contemplating such an enormous change to existing regulations.

And indeed, state law is in support of adequate notification. Idaho Code 67-6507 reads, “As part of the planning process, the commission shall endeavor to promote a public interest in and understanding of the commission’s activities.”

Residents feel that requirement was not met.

Jim Junget, for example, didn’t know what was going on, and that was a surprise to him as he stated he attended “most of those meetings,” estimating that in the last year and a half, he might have missed three. “Almost all of this was a surprise to me,” he said. 

Junget explained that “most of the time I didn’t know what they were talking about (in the meetings).  They would say things like, “what if we change this word on line five of page six to ‘if.’” There wasn’t discussion (on the specifics of an ordinance) to where you knew what they were planning on doing. And I had no idea there were going to be so many of them.”

When reference to sections of Idaho Code 67, which includes such provisions as the previously quoted adequate notification, and examples of objective criteria, was made, Mayor Shields responded that those references deal “specifically with developing and adopting a Comprehensive Plan and (don’t) really apply to creating a Zoning Ordinance.”

Yet the ordinance itself states it is adopted “pursuant to authority granted by Title 67, Chapter 65 of Idaho Code.” The short title of that code? The “Local Land Use Planning Act;” the portion of Idaho Code the mayor said didn’t apply.

A second area of community concern has to do with the issue of “grandfathering,” whereby current structures would be permitted even though they do not meet the new standards.

Mayor Shields pointed out, “Under Section 15.0, Subsection B (of the ordinances) it states that if a lawful use involving individual structures, or of a structure and land in combination, existed on or before the effective date of this Ordinance, that would not be allowed in the district (this refers to a zoning district) under the terms of this Ordinance, the lawful use may continue as long as it remains otherwise lawful, subject to certain conditions...”

Council members stated the intent of the changes is focused on guiding new development, not imposing undue hardships on existing properties.

Yet the proposed ordinance states only “maintenance and repairs” may be performed on a non-conforming property and that re-construction of a non-conforming structure is only permitted, if the “building (was) destroyed by no fault of the owner...”

“My bank loan is in jeopardy,” stated Eric Cox, who recently purchased a former bed and breakfast and planned to open a gun store. “They won’t give me a loan because (the city) won’t guarantee it could be rebuilt.”

Another major concern has to do with ordinances that deal with aesthetics: paint colors, businesses having to match sign “motifs” to the architectural style of their building, landscaping issues and the hot-button issue, a date when Christmas lights have to be taken down. (The actual wording of the ordinance states, “Reasonable seasonable decorations within the appropriate holiday season (are allowed). However, such displays shall be removed at the end of the public holiday season.”

“Why in the world would they care when we take our lights down?” asked Brashear. “And who’s going to decide this?” Who, indeed, will determine whether signs match the “architectural style” of a building or whether the color of the garage “compliments” the color of the house?

Shields responded he believed it would be up to the mayor to do that, with a little help from residents themselves. “... in a small city this enforcement is most often times triggered by a written complaint.”

The ordinances also include the provision for fines for non-compliance - $1,000 per day that the property owner is out of compliance - and penalties as well; a misdemeanor charge carrying up to six months in jail, for each and every day of non-compliance.

County Commissioner Rich noted that planning and zoning issues generally are something the public has a “strong interest” in, and suggested Clark Fork’s council might want to follow the example of the county’s planning and zoning department.

“As the county has developed its Comprehensive Plan, (P&Z Director) Clare Marley and her staff have been very successful at addressing the community’s concerns, and coming up with a document that people support,” he said.

Clark Fork’s council members, however, don’t seem overly enamored with the idea of public participation at this point. Although they were asked repeatedly by the public to engage in debate on the specifics of the new ordinances, Shields stated, “It is my feeling that this is not feasible and I would not promote it. A workshop, by law, is a meeting for the public to observe the council discuss and consider proposed ordinances, resolutions, etc. and as such the public is not guaranteed a right to speak. However, the Clark Fork City Council has, to my knowledge, always allowed the public to participate in the discussions.  But to have approximately 100 people go through a 75 page ordinance line by line is not realistic. The people, by law, are given their chance to speak at the Public Hearing, but even that can have certain restrictions such as length of time.”

Several residents, however, have vowed to initiate a recall petition against any elected city officials who refuse to listen to concerns from the public. It’s a question of representation, they say.

In order to allow for community feedback on the ordinance proposals in a manner that doesn’t place an undue burden on council members, the River Journal has posted the complete proposal online, where those interested can read the individual ordinances and post their comments regarding the same. Follow the link from our website or visit the ordinance blog directly here

The next city council meeting will be held at 7 pm on Monday, March 12. Council meetings are held at City Hall unless large attendance requires the meeting to be held elsewhere. If you want to attend the meeting and prefer to call beforehand regarding any changes, you can reach Clark Fork’s City Hall at 208-266-1315.

Idaho Code Title 50 deals with Municipal Corporations (cities) and Idaho Code Title 67 deals with Land Use Planning. Both are accessible on the internet at www3.state.id.us/idstat/TOC/idstTOC.html.

See related story, "Community Responds to Changes."

 

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Clark Fork, Lewis Rich, zoning, ordinances, Eric Cox, Jim Junget, Mayor Tom Shields, Gail Brashear

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