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Convoluted county ordinance getting rewrite

— During the decade before the Idaho County Commission made some changes in how the county handles subdivisions, the county had been processing new subdivisions almost every year. Since adding a “procedure for property division approval” in 2010, only one new subdivision has come before the board.

“The economy stopped everybody from subdividing,” Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt said. “There wasn’t a market out there. When the housing market goes away, the subdivision need goes away.”

But any aspiring land developer who reads the existing ordinance – a conglomeration collected in three sections of county code dating to several different decades – would struggle to understand what the local government actually requires.

While the most recently proposed subdivision involves less than three acres in a remote area in the southern part of the county, it has been stuck in the process for months – and having to process it has brought new attention problems with the way the ordinance is worded.

“When we started going through the subdivision ordinance, one thing that immediately became apparent is that it wasn’t clear what the fee structure was,” commissioner Mark Frei said Monday night, Dec. 12. “In one place it said one thing and in another place it said another thing in terms of what the fees are.”

The 2010 ordinance has been amended for clarity, but the problems have persisted – and Frei is working on a significant rewrite.

“This thing is so convoluted,” Frei said. “They must have just pulled it from some bigger county where they have a lot more complication than we need here.”

According to public records, on July 12, surveyor Hunter Edwards brought a plan for a new subdivision to the board. In 2014, the board had denied Paul Neville a variance for a split in Secesh, in the southern part of the county. The board told Neville to pursue a subdivision. The new Neville Subdivision would involve lining out a couple of lots – one of a bit more than one acre, one a bit bigger than an acre-and-a-half.

Under the subdivision ordinance, the county is to have a surveyor or engineer make a recommendation within 30 days after a preliminary plat is filed. In July, Edwards asked who the county surveyor might be. Months of discussion have followed from that 24-minute conversation.

On Sept. 13, the board told Edwards to provide other documentation the ordinance requires before a public hearing on the subdivision. On Oct. 11 Edwards brought in a letter from the public health district to the effect the subdivision plan met state health regulations and the board asked Daryl Mullinix to review it as both surveyor and engineer.

On Oct. 18, the board heard fresh concerns about the ordinance from both county clerk Kathy Ackerman and Edwards, with the minutes noting both Ackerman’s observation that “the fee structure is not clear” and Edwards’ observation that the ordinance “may be in conflict with some portions of Idaho Code.”

On Oct. 25, the board spent 45 minutes discussing when the county should consult an engineer, when it should consult a surveyor, what standards subdivision roads must meet and the health district’s place in the process.

On Nov. 1, the board spent about 45 minutes with representatives from the public health agency – Public Health Idaho’s North Central District. On Nov. 8, the board held a discussion of whether and how to change the ordinance. The board took up potential changes again on Nov. 29 and, as the Lewiston Tribune reported last week, the board spent an hour talking about it on Dec. 6 – focusing mainly on road standards and liability.

Frei told the Free Press his rewrite will bring new clarity to the steps the ordinance presently requires.


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