Kootenai Resident’s Vision for Healthy Growth
By North Idaho Slow Groth Research
The Comprehensive Plans recently adopted by local governments seem to have been produced specifically to enable rapid and dense development—exactly the opposite of what current residents desire. The planners were required to do “community outreach” but they either misunderstood what residents want or they don’t care. In any case, they have completely misconstrued “public input” and attempted to disguise a complete cave in to developer demands for densification with standard-issue “smart-growth” catch phrases.
In order to address this problem we have tried to come up with a clear statement of the vision and values of Kootenai County residents. Healthy growth for the area is not a left-right issue and the following principles are nearly universally held and easy to understand. They are, however, antithetical to the vision of modern urbanists, who favor dense, corporate-controlled, “planned communities” over traditional neighborhoods.
We Value Home Ownership: Home-ownership is an essential, core value of our community and we are poorly served by city planners who fail to make a distinction between ownership opportunities and corporate rentals. The dramatic increase in demand for housing in the area is driven by out-of-state families seeking permanent homes, yet most new “dwellings” built last year were rentals. We understand that investors prefer to build and retain rental properties, but every acre that is zoned for “multi-family” rentals is one that is unavailable to meet the high demand for owner occupied homes. We believe that home ownership is key to preserving the character of our community, and ownership opportunities should be explicitly prioritized in all planning and zoning decisions going forward.
We Value Low Density, Suburban/Rural Communities: We reject the densification of our communities to accommodate unlimited growth. Most of the cities in the area should limit their densities and rate of growth to preserve their suburban character even when “fully developed.” Coeur d’Alene is a Lakeside Resort community, and urban densities are appropriate in certain neighborhoods, but the rest of Kootenai County is suburban-rural, and virtually all existing residents want to keep it that way. Yet some city planners have intentionally misrepresented community preferences to justify up-zoning entire single-family neighborhoods so that vacant lots can accommodate higher densities. This is completely unacceptable. Upzoning drives home prices up, not down, and the vast majority of residential land in Kootenai cities should be reserved for single family residences, regardless of developer preferences.
We Value Cars and “Drivable Communities:” We understand the advantages and disadvantages of a suburban lifestyle and we have chosen a car-dependent lifestyle. We want our cities to remain “car friendly” and our urban planners to accommodate parking lots, strip malls, mini-marts, and functional traffic grids. We like commercial districts that are easily accessible by car and do not want to see them transformed into densely populated “urban villages”. We live in a region with five months of winter weather and have no desire to bike to work or walk to our hair-dressers. We do not want our urban planners to prioritize “transportation alternatives”, and we think that people who want a “car-less lifestyle” should live elsewhere.
We Value Manufacture Homes: North Idaho has always had an abundance of non-wealthy locals, who love the area and want to enjoy the benefits of home ownership but cannot afford suburban homes. Sky-rocketing home prices have made the situation worse, but for generations, manufactured homes have been the preferred housing solution for the majority of low income residents. Manufactured homes are available in a wide range of sizes and provide affordable options for home ownership. The traditional “solution” for affordable housing in North Idaho has always been “manufactured homes” and the expansion of manufactured home facilities should be the toppriority of local “affordable housing” advocates in the area.
We Oppose “Subsidized” Housing: Most residents of the region are not particularly wealthy and many of us are alarmed at skyrocketing home prices. That said, we deplore the idea of large scale subsidized rentals as a solution to our housing problems, and refuse to fall for the siren-song of “Low Income Housing” developers, who benefit from generous government subsidies while jacking up rents on unsubsidized units. Over development of subsidized housing systematically drives up rental prices and worsens the housing crisis in every region in which has been allowed to occur. Kootenai County has many indigenous low-income families that may need some form of assistance, but people who cannot afford to live here, should not move here. We are not willing to provide for an endless flow of out-of-state, low-income renters by green-lighting subsidized developments.
We value the Prairie and Farmland: As westerners, we value open space and our beautiful prairies, and have always favored legislation that supported our local farmers. Unfortunately, it is starting to dawn on us, that much of the open land in Kootenai County is owned by development corporations who only pretend to farm in order to receive favorable tax treatment. They take advantage of favorable tax laws with the full expectation of cashing in when their land is rezoned by friendly governments. The game has been rigged for decades, and “land-banking” by corporate developers has created artificial scarcity, prevented organic development of land, and greatly enriched already wealthy land barons. In the long term, laws will have to be changed to make this type of hornswoggle less profitable for land hoarding corporations posing as farmers.
We Value Low Taxes and Small Government: Raising taxes on Kootenai residents to pay for the additional infrastructure needed for unwanted growth in the area is universally deplored. But even if laws were changed so that developers pay higher impact fees, infrastructure is only one aspect of local government that becomes more complicated and expensive as cities grow. Services of all sorts, including schools, parks, plowing, libraries, fire, and law enforcement all become more difficult to sustain with greater population. We want simple, transparent and accountable government, so that a “fully developed” Kootenai county does not descend into the type of urban dystopia that so many of our newest residents are fleeing from.
We Value Slow Growth: The population of Kootenai County has been rising steadily for decades. We believe that slow, organic growth is healthy and do not oppose a gradual increase of newcomers who are committed to the area. What we have seen in the last few years, however, is not a thoughtful migration, but a mad rush of coastal residents fleeing their abusive governments, combined with an influx of investors determined to cash in on their desperation. It is not a healthy mix and there is no reason our local governments need to accommodate either desperate exiles or greedy investors. All these refugees don’t need to end up in Idaho Those that are truly committed to the area will not be discouraged if it takes a few years to acquire a permanent home in the region, and those that expect instant gratification would probably be happier elsewhere. Rapid growth only benefits developers. It is unhealthy for existing residents and newcomers alike.
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