Commissioners approve North Lake development changes


SANDPOINT – A controversial development planned to be built at the mouth of Trestle Creek has received approval for changes to its site plan.

On Wednesday, Bonner County commissioners approved three changes to the North Lake development consisting of combining three boat-storage buildings into one building, relocating parking spaces, and moving a sewage field.

Although many opponents of the project have argued that the development violates many of the county’s building codes, the county maintains that the project did not violate any of its terms of approval.

The unit has been conditionally approved for development, which is planned to be built on 24.4 acres at the northern crossroads of Trestle Creek. Owned by Valiant Idaho, LLC and William Haberman, the project will include five luxury homes, 124 boat slides and boat storage facilities.

In April, Planning Director Milton Ollerton described what constituted the planned unit development to the county’s newly formed zoning committee, which recommended approval of the changes in a split resolution.

“The development of the planned unit is essentially a combination of conditional use permit and variation,” Ollerton told the committee. “When people apply to develop a planned unit, they are referring to deviations from the code as part of the planned unit development. That was some frustration from the public with this app, there were many deviations from the code, which was part of the planned unit development. …that’s how this was reviewed and approved. I allowed deviations from the code for this reason.”

Members of the public, theater agencies, and other official organizations have criticized the development, with their primary concerns focusing on the environmental impacts on Lake Pend Oreille and potential negative impacts on the trout habitat at Trestle Creek.

The Endangered Species Act designated bull trout as an “Endangered” species in 1999. The Idaho Fish and Game Act indicates that Trestle Creek hosts important breeding grounds for bull trout.

IDFG is one of many agencies that have spoken out against development. Other agencies include the Kalispell Tribe of Indians, the Lakes Commission, the Idaho Conservation Association, and the Center for Biodiversity. The agencies submitted written comments to the county asking them to reconsider the entire project. However, according to the county, such an effort has no legal standing.

Planning Director Milton Ollerton, originally approved by county commissioners on January 13, 2021, said in April that the only way the project as a whole could be considered is if Valiant Idaho did not meet the conditions for approval of the planned development.

Conditional use permits such as those for the North Lake development have a two-year window to meet the conditions. Agencies able to place requirements on the project include the county, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, the Panhandle Health District, the Idaho Fish and Game, and the Idaho Land Department.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Chief Commissioner Dan MacDonald made it clear that the entire dossier had not been considered, and that discussion would be limited to required changes.

“It is your responsibility today, the delegates, to determine whether this application of the amendment is compatible with the original application,” the Director of Planning told the committee early in the meeting. “Staff have found this proposed change to be consistent with current implementation.”

Bill Wilson, deputy attorney general and legal counsel for the committee, reiterated the view later at the meeting.

“You basically have a dilemma. Either you have the status quo, which is the pre-approved document, or you have the amendment,” Wilson said.

Project representative Scott Brown also reiterated the purpose of Wednesday’s session.

“If this is not approved, we go back to the original plan; not necessarily shutting down this whole project,” Brown said.

Seven people spoke during public comment, and more donated their time to other speakers. Everyone who spoke expressed their opposition to the entire project.

MacDonald reminded the audience at the beginning of the public comment that discussion would be limited to the proposed changes; Although that did not stop many speakers from commenting on the entire project.

“The amendment request is today, and our message is synchronized,” said Molly McCahon of the Lakes Commission. “Since you originally agreed to this [planned unit development] The permit for dredging and basic packing has been suspended, and not approved. …we understand that this modification cannot physically occur without the approval of dredging and packing. Let the earth turmoil with this [planned unit development] It will be irresponsible until a decision is made on state and federal permits that this marina is [planned unit development] Depends on.”

Other commentators focused on the effects on the environment while commenting on the proposed changes.

“While I appreciate that the applicant is trying to reduce the impermeable surfaces and the drain field. I think the overall impact of this project will be enormous,” said Susan Drumheller. “While some of the changes would reduce the impermeable surfaces, they should not have been approved. On these disparities in the first place. It’s like putting lipstick on a pig. Don’t make that decision with blinders but look at this holistically.”

Officials from the Idaho Conservation Association and the Center for Biodiversity also commented during the meeting, focusing primarily on the required setbacks of wetlands and streams.

After 20 minutes of public comment, the committee deliberated for the same length of time. The three commissioners expressed support for the proposed changes compared to the original site plan.

“I see the benefit; reducing hard surfaces, moving sewage further south – away from the shoreline. I think this is a much better plan compared to the original plan, especially from an environmental point of view,” MacDonald said.

Commissioner Jeff Connolly emphasized that his job was to compare one site plan with the other.

“One of the things I think we need to make clear is that we’re here to either say yes to the amendment, or it doesn’t mean we’re going back to the original plan. No doesn’t mean this thing goes to nothing. The original plan will still apply,” Connolly said.

Commissioner Steve Bradshaw noted that if the project as a whole violated the terms of any agency, they would report to the county.

“I think they’ve done a good job – they can do a better job. I’m sure if there are any hitches in that with DEQ and the civil engineers, they will be more than happy to point it out,” Bradshaw said.

Before making a proposal to approve the changes, MacDonald stated that the changed site plan would be better for the environment than previous development plans.

Commissioners approved the development amendments soon after, with members of the public walking out of the meeting while in the midst of the voting process.

Those interested in contacting county commissioners to provide feedback can do so by finding their contact information on the county’s website at BonnerCountyID.gov/commissioners.

As of Friday, there are no further meetings scheduled regarding North Lake development.

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