Suppose the new development codes for Kootenai County could provide more development potential, more flexibility for builders and homeowners, and much better protection of our lakes and streams. Who wouldn’t want that? Indeed, as early drafts of the new codes are being released, this win-win-win scenario could soon be playing out along county shorelines.
One of the most controversial — and dysfunctional — aspects of the current county development codes is the shoreline development laws. The current law is extremely strict in a very narrow buffer strip along the stream bank or lake shore, but extremely lax otherwise. The result is that the current system does not work to protect the environment, and it doesn’t work for property owners either.
Although much work still needs to be done, early drafts of the new county code take an approach that is much more flexible but also much more protective of water quality. The tradeoff is simple: development with a higher risk of causing water quality impacts will be more restricted; development with a lesser risk of causing water quality impacts will be less restricted. The inflexible narrow buffer strip will be replaced with a broader but more flexible scheme. Building on steep erodible slopes, for example, will be more limited and more difficult under the new law. Land development that avoids such environmental impacts, however, will be easier.
There is still much to be worked out, and there will be a lot of deliberation before final approval, but a new approach is what was desperately needed. And a new approach seems to be what the early code draft provides. The fact that we’ve been doing it wrong for so long should not be an impediment to making things better.