We caught this press release (pdf) over at Huckleberries Online, and it is an important development in Kootenai County’s ULUC land use code project. One of the major difficulties in any zoning code overhaul is what to do with properties that already exist and would be allowed under an old code, but not allowed under the new one. Kootenai County ‘s consultant is suggesting a clever and effective “Neighborhood Conservation district” method to resolve this problem.

Part of the reason to write new zoning code is to improve on old ways of doing business. We know now, for example, that water quality can depend on land use decisions, and water quality needs to be a major concern in our area. When our new code is complete, for example, we hope that shorelines and waterfronts will be better protected with new buffers. But for people who have already developed their properties under the old code, this can be problematic.

Generally, when a new code is written, it can create so-called “non-conforming” properties that were allowed previously but wouldn’t be allowed anymore. For example, an existing parking lot parcel, which might be allowed under the old code but not allowed under the new one, would continue in existence, but it would simply be labeled as “non-conforming.” An addition or expansion of a non-conforming parking lot would be substantially more difficult, usually requiring a hard-to-get variance from the new code. Non-conforming doesn’t mean “illegal” and it is not a “taking” of anyone’s existing property rights, but it can impact future development and expansions of existing non-conforming development. Buying, selling, and financing non-conforming properties is also difficult.

The draft of the County’s new code avoids the problem entirely. Using “Neighborhood Conservation” zoning districts, (See Article 3-4)  existing developed properties are essentially grandfathered into the new, updated system. Rather than being deemed non-conforming, all properties would be conforming, and subject to new, clear, objective and flexible standards. This method will protect the reasonable development potential of the existing property, while also protecting neighbors and the environment.

Although we expect that there will be a continuing flow of nonsense and misinformation from chronic “property rights” malcontents, the reality is that the proposed Neighborhood Conservation zoning districts in the ULUC  address any legitimate concerns quite efficiently.