With a whirlwind week of committee meetings, focus groups, and “Citizen Congress” town hall gatherings, Kootenai County is finally getting on with the business of re-writing its out-dated land use laws. The initial meetings this week will set the stage for an 18-month process in which the laws that govern everything development-related in the county — from subdivisions to signage, from hearing procedures to shoreline protection – will be overhauled.

In the first meeting of a stakeholder committee set up to advise the process, problems with the current code were enumerated and hopes for the new code were discussed. Most community members were adamant in the need for regulations to protect our valuable waterways and the natural and scenic resources that make North Idaho a great place to live. Most were also adamant that property rights be protected. Developers were interested in creating a code that provides “certainty” and clarity in decision-making. Rural residents emphasized a need to protect the character of their rural communities.

Todd Messenger, the project leader for Kendig Keast the consulting group in charge of the code project, noted that in most instances, 80% of community values are shared and entirely non-controversial. Of the remaining 20%, maybe half is less important, leaving only 10% to be difficult to reach agreement.

Nevertheless, the advisory group also acknowledged the difficulty in the process to come. For example, how to protect rural character is an open question. The community will need to decide if it wants to maintain working farmland and private forests in rural areas or whether the predominant land use should be relegated to some form of “rural residential.” How to better protect stream banks and shorelines is another open question. Can there be a balance of stronger shoreline regulation coupled with development flexibility?

There will be numerous opportunities for public input and comment. The consultants promised that the entire process will be open and available on-line.  (Bookmark www.kccode.com now!) But the consultants are certainly getting an earful this week.

Lane Kendig, a principal in the code-writing consulting firm, said a good set of land use regulations will require foremost a “look at the land.” Development on land well-suited for development should actually be encouraged.  Development on land not-suited for development? Not so much. So, in fact, a code that actually requires a careful look at the land does indeed seem a good place to start.