Idaho County has been at odds with the state’s land use planning law for decades, but the people responsible for keeping the county up to code – the Idaho County Commissioners – won’t face prosecution any time soon.
At least, not as long as the commissioners are working toward bringing the county into compliance.
Or, as an April 24 letter from the Idaho Attorney General’s (AG) office to county attorney Kirk MacGregor put it: “We understand that this process could take some time and that an exact date for completion might be difficult to set, but, in the interim, the county must make observable, demonstratable progress towards the adoption of a comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance. As long as such progress is being made, this office will forgo the filing of criminal charges. If this process is completed in accordance with the requirements of [the state land use planning statute], the Idaho County Commissioners will have fulfilled this statutory duty and accordingly, this office will not file charges.”
At issue is whether and how the local government will put the state’s 1975 land use planning law into effect. The county commissioners will discuss the letter, which they characterized in an after-hours press release Friday evening, May 17, as a threat of “individual prosecution” of all three of them.
The commission “intends to give the highest priority to upholding private property rights of Idaho County citizens while complying with the statute,” according to the commissioners’ press release, which came two days after the AG’s office nudged the county for a response.
When asked why the AG is pursuing action now, rather than decades ago, the AG’s office told the Free Press it stems from an investigation into a constituent complaint that was filed in 2018 and that the investigation is being carried out under anti-corruption authority the legislature granted to the AG’s office in 2014.
The letter at issue, written by AG criminal law division chief Paul R. Panther, states the AG is exercising its authority “to suggest a nonjudicial remedy in lieu of prosecution.”
When Idaho County’s planning and zoning board was on the brink of deciding which among several concepts for a comprehensive plan to advance in December 1985, the votes were split, no plan was advanced, and the P&Z board was disbanded in 1986.
The Idaho County Commissioners supported legislation this year that “would have made the comprehensive plan mandate discretionary,” according to their May 17 news release, but the state legislature did not relax the law.
“We have to confirm within that 60-day window – almost down to 30 days – what our intent is,” Idaho County Commission chairman Skip Brandt said. “As I read the code, we have two options for moving forward. We can put a planning and zoning commission together and let them sort out the nuances, or we can just do it. If we do it, it seems like there’s a simpler process, but that’s where I’ve got to confer with our attorneys to see if we’re reading the statute the same.”