For the first time since 2010, the Idaho County Commission approved a new subdivision, under which developer Timothy Hicks is bringing a cluster of new houses to about 31 acres in the Tahoe area east of Stites.
“I worked with one other surveyor, but it was Chad Erickson who really saw this through,” Hicks told the Free Press after county officials’ signatures were added to the mylar Tuesday morning, Nov. 28. “It wouldn’t have happened without his help.”
“I was just the surveyor on his project,” Erickson said, “but working through the regulations involved really does require someone who knows how to expedite the process.”
It had been more than seven years since Idaho County last processed a new subdivision under the county’s subdivision ordinance, which requires the county to carry out technical reviews of any new plat. During a hearing Oct. 10, the board denied a variance for a new subdivision requested by James and Nancy Reynolds. But on Nov. 21, the board approved a variance subdivision surveyor Chad Erickson had brought to the board again and again on behalf of property developer Timothy Hicks during recent months.
During the Nov. 21 variance hearing, Erickson told the county commissioners the Hicks subdivision – known as the Tahoe Estates Subdivision in the county’s meeting minutes – had first been presented to the board in 2000. He said the surveying had been done, but that the process languished for more than a decade before Hicks, intending to complete the subdivision, bought the property a year and a half ago.
Under the county’s subdivision ordinance, a new plat is to be presented for review by the county’s engineer and the county’s surveyor. The county presently doesn’t have either an engineer or a surveyor in-house, so the county outsourced the Hicks plat reviews to Lewiston-based Riedesel Engineering and Latah County surveyor John Elsbury.
The county’s subdivision standards include requirements related to survey monuments, the engineering of streets and alleys, installation of public utilities, storm drainage, water supply and sewer sanitation. It also includes a section on special developments, such as cemeteries, mobile home subdivisions and large scale developments. For large scale developments, developers are required to identify impacts on public services – police and fire protection, schools, water and sewer systems, road construction and maintenance – and to estimate both the public service costs and the tax revenue to be generated.
In the case of a large-scale subdivision, the ordinance requires the cost of providing public services to be offset by tax revenue received from a large scale development, or else, the county ordinance requires developers to include “public means of financing the services for the development” in their proposals.
Idaho County had recorded 38 subdivisions from Jan. 1, 2000, to Jan. 1, 2011 – the year the county updated its subdivision ordinance. Prior to the final approval of the Hicks subdivision during the Nov. 28 commission meeting, the most recent subdivision in county records was made in Sept. 2010, Idaho County clerk Kathy Ackerman told the Free Press in October.
Erickson had inquired about a variance in August, and brought the Hicks plat to the commission Aug. 29, from which the series of follow-ups resulted. The approved minutes of two September county commission meetings show the commission – acting in its planning and zoning capacity – allowed the Hicks plat to advance Sept. 19.
The county’s subdivision ordinance, No. 59, was established in 2010 and amended in 2011, and the county website, idahocounty.org, states it replaced two earlier subdivision ordinances. When a variance from this ordinance is sought, the ordinance requires a public hearing. It also states the board may grant a variance if six conditions are met – including the commission’s determination whether or not granting the variance would be “detrimental to other property in the area in which said property is situated.”
Even when neighbors object to a variance – as happened during the Reynolds’ Oct. 10 hearing over a plan to divide property adjacent to the Shenandoah Heights Subdivision near Kamiah – those who wish to subdivide can do so by meeting all the subdivision ordinance requirements, county attorney Kirk MacGregor told the Reynolds.
However, the county ordinance requirements – which reference LHTAC (Local Highway Technical Assistance Council) standards for new roads – proved too stiff for Hicks. Under the county ordinance, the Hicks plat – six lots totaling a bit more than 31 acres located about 4¾ miles as the crow flies east of Stites – would have required daily inspections by an engineer out of Lewiston during construction of a new blacktop surface within the subdivision, among a host of other intense expenses.
Hicks told the board Oct. 24 the requirement for constructing a new paved road to comply with LHTAC standards would add $45,000 to his costs, which had to that point included about $7,000 in engineering expenses. He also stated that while the houses “ought to be worth $300, 350,000 of taxable income to the county,” having spent $9,000 in trying to conform to the ordinance, he could “see another $100,000 in front of me” – which would stop him from pursuing the development.
At the conclusion of the Hicks variance hearing, the county commissioners therefore voted to the effect that a crushed rock road surface would suffice. The variance waived requirements for engineered design, slope stakes and road pavement. It reduced a 60-foot radius culdesac in the middle of the subdivision to 50 feet. The variance also reduced the size of a culvert from 24 inches to 12 inches, as it “only drains 15 acres.” The board also allowed road compaction to be done by loaded trucks and steel drum rollers, and affirmed the Hicks request for inspections to be done by Idaho County Road & Bridge personnel. The Hicks variance request included a provision that road maintenance is to be provided for in the covenants of a homeowners association, and also included a five-page set of checklists detailing what all the road inspectors will check over.
But even more clarification was still required.
Even on Nov. 28 – the day the new subdivision plat was signed by county officials including commission chairman Skip Brandt, assessor James Zehner, road and bridge department head Gene Meinen, treasurer Abbie Hudson and clerk Kathy Ackerman – the board still had to work out details involved with the Hicks variance, which the commissioners had voted to approve the previous week.
Before the final vote, the board also heard from a neighbor in attendance, who asked Hicks to consider adding a requirement for subscription to the Ridge Runner Fire Department to the new homeowners association covenants; Hicks said he volunteers his manpower and equipment to fight fires, and said he prefers to keep it voluntary.
When the Reynolds presented their request for a variance on Oct. 10, a neighbor objected and presented a petition signed by other neighbors who objected. (The Reynolds variance request centered on whether to allow a fifth separate property in a quarter with four already.) When the board voted down the Reynolds’ variance application, public records show commissioner Mark Frei stated he could not support the variance in light of the number of objections, and show commission chairman Skip Brandt said he could support a variance only when there are no objections. (Commissioner Denis Duman also found against the Reynolds variance; Duman made the motion to deny it, and the commission’s vote was unanimous.)
When Erickson presented the Hicks request for a variance on Nov. 21, one neighbor said he wanted the construction kept to code, another expressed concern over water supply and said he “didn’t want to see a bunch of trailer houses in there,” and another declared the subdivision ordinance confusing. (The board unanimously approved Frei’s motion to approve the variance and the checklist.)
Previously on this topic, the Free Press reported the commission’s efforts at rewriting the subdivision ordinance in December 2016; that attempt, headed by Frei, stalled. During recent commission meetings, Frei has said he intends to keep working on the rewrite.
“I fully acknowledge the confusing aspects of the ordinance,” Frei said during the Nov. 21 variance hearing, before the vote. “I had to take a haitus due to another project. But we are back on rewriting it. It was actually on the agenda for today, but I didn’t get it quite to where I want to present it. So I acknowledge that and I’m working to try and fix it. I also think in general the ordinance is too bureaucratic, so I’m trying to simplify it and cut it down. Part of the reason for this hearing is the acknowledgment that the ordinance is too bureaucratic and that the requirements in the ordinance may be too stringent for all cases. Before this hearing I believed the road requirements were too stringent, and that we need to entertain a less [stringent] standard than that.”