Comments to the City of Sandpoint RE: Title 9, Zone Change

Comments to the City of Sandpoint RE: Title 9, Zone Change

TO:  

Sandpoint City Council: Kate McAlister, Deb Ruehle, Joel Aispuro, Andy Groat, Jason Welker, Justin Dick

City of Sandpoint Staff: Jennifer Stapleton, Amanda Wilson 

City of Sandpoint Mayor: Shelby Rognstad 

RE: Amendment to Sandpoint City Code – Title 9, Zoning, Chapters 1 and 2

As many of you know, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper (LPOW) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that works to protect the water quality of Lake Pend Oreille (LPO), the Pend Oreille River and their associated waterways.  

LPOW would like to thank the City of Sandpoint for the opportunity to comment on the above referenced amendment. I realize the City has expended considerable resources, time and effort into the Farmin Landing project and LPOW is in full support of the overall project, primarily due to the significant stormwater improvement the City appears committed to.

While the overall water quality of LPO is considered to be in a healthy state, Sand Creek is currently listed on Idaho’s Integrated Report for sediment and temperature – two pollutants in which stormwater is certainly a contributor.  Downstream, Lake Pend Oreille is listed for total phosphorus – another pollutant commonly found in urban stormwater runoff.

I have submitted the paragraph below in prior comments, but I feel it’s important to reiterate here. The following excerpt is language the City used in its first $25,000 grant that was gifted from the LOR Foundation in 2017:

The City of Sandpoint acquired this critical piece of waterfront property in 2015 with the primary intent of managing and treating the storm water runoff from our downtown, controlling ongoing bank erosion, and to enhance bicycle and pedestrian connectivity within the area. Currently, treatment of stormwater from the downtown core is handled by one small oil-water separator, which discharges directly into Sand Creek. The primary goal of this project is to determine the best ways in which to ameliorate stormwater discharge into Sand Creek, as well as improve the overall environmental impact on the area due to steady increases in population, recreational use, and economic vitality within the downtown core.

For background, when improvements were made to 1st Street and Cedar Street two years ago, all of the stormwater that was discharged under the Cedar St. Bridge was combined to the Main St. system and routed to the Farmin Landing area. That outfall now collects runoff from approximately 20 acres of the downtown core.  It is important to note that when we are talking about “stormwater improvements’ ‘, we are not just talking about filtering stormwater generated from the Farmin property itself, but filtering all the stormwater that is generated from the 20 acres. (See Image #1)

Image #1

It has been communicated to LPOW that the justification for the amendment to Title 9 is that the current Farmin design would be in violation of current code, which we agree and believe to be correct.  We appreciate city staff involving LPOW in the discussion and feel we have made significant progress in addressing concerns raised from our members.  With the current draft of the amendment to Title 9, no buildings are allowed within the 25’ setback, however plazas and other significant structures are allowed not only to high water mark, but are given a permitted pathway to construct improvements below high water mark.  

The laws pertaining to what we can and cannot do with regard to development along our shoreline and within our waterways are critical to the protection of water quality, and should be exhaustively thought through prior to adoption. 

Comments specific to the Draft Ordinance (Dec 2021)

Items A through D: Seem appropriate, no comment

Item E: Currently Reads

Functionally dependent water uses and structures including but not limited to: bridges, boardwalks, stormwater systems, plazas, walkways, access stairways moorage facilities, stream stabilization, and art features may be constructed above or below the applicable high-water mark (AHWM or OHWM) subject to:

1 – Issuance of a Conditional Use Permit;

2 – Notification and approval of the all applicable State and Federal regulations;

3 – Compliance with the Sandpoint Stormwater Ordinance.

This section creates a pathway for development of structures to occur below the high water mark and essentially into the creek.  Unfortunately, this is also what the City needs to accomplish in the development of the Farmin stormwater treatment improvement project.  

What the current draft lacks is a set of robust design standards that would help shape projects, with requirements and limitations that conform with the community’s wishes as well as the comprehensive plan.  The City has a significant quantity of design standards for buildings, parking lots, cottage housing, etc… If in fact we are going to allow development along the creek, especially below HWM, we need to have clear guidelines to adequately protect the environment as well as the aesthetic of our community.

Item F: Currently Reads

The Conditional Use Permit process shall recognize Sand Creek is (as) a natural environmental feature of major importance that shall remain protected.  Development shall be commensurate with the physical characteristics of Sand Creek and protect fish, wildlife, recreation resources, and avoid undue water and air pollution. An effective vegetative buffer upland of the applicable high-water mark (AHWM or OHWM) shall be incorporated as one method of protection, unless determined impractical by an Idaho licensed professional engineer or licensed landscape architect, whereby alternative(s) of equal effectiveness and/or a combination thereof shall be provided.  

The majority of this paragraph does a good job of stressing the importance of protecting the environment and utilizing a vegetative buffer where appropriate.  The concern begins when we allow engineers and landscape architects to determine something is “impractical”, especially by landscape architects who are not typically a consultant for large stormwater improvements.

Item G & H – Seems appropriate.  However, I will say that my experience with the Idaho Department of Lands, as well as the Army Corp of Engineers, should not be looked at as agencies that protect the environment, but agencies that facilitate development.  The City needs to protect itself from irresponsible development projects, not rely on other agencies.  

General Comments:  

With regard to the timing of this ordinance and the decision to amend it, I do not feel we should be making this decision feeling rushed, especially without a real understanding of the consequences.  This is a complicated issue and proving a difficult task in bringing all the stakeholders, including Planning Commissioners and City Council members, to understand the text and the consequences of the amendment.

Currently the City has little money to construct the project, least of all the technically advanced stormwater filtration portion the City says it’s committed to.  This project, particularly the stormwater portion, will be funded through the 1% LOT tax that we assume will be on the ballot in November. If we had the project shovel ready and the only thing we needed was to amend the ordinance, then yes, we should push forward and get it done. But given the fact that there is funding uncertainty, we should at least take our time and ensure we get it right.  

The City held what it called a workshop on the matter to bring the community into the decision making.  In the past we’ve gone to City Hall, sat around a table, rolled up our sleeves and gone through the nuts and bolts of the language and worked it out.  The last workshop was nothing like that.  It was set up strictly to inform planning commissioners and city council members on where we were at, answer their questions and unfortunately the public was essentially left with no time to comment, ask questions, and have productive dialogue.

I realize that City staff has put a lot of time and effort into getting this amendment passed, and I truly appreciate all of their work.  I have been a part of the effort since it was first announced and have come to realize there are not only a quantity of moving parts, but a lot of diverse opinions as well.

We are looking at making a decision that will fully shape our town over the next 25 to 50 years and it needs to be well considered. I would strongly encourage you to table this decision until all of the questions are answered and the long term ramifications are completely understood.

If you find this unacceptable then a least consider the following suggestions:

E. Construction within 25’ setback:

A. Functionally dependent water uses, stormwater systems and stream stabilization may be constructed above or below the applicable high water mark subject to: 

1. Issuance of a Conditional use permit

2. Notification and approval of all applicable State and Federal regulations; and

3. Compliance with the Sandpoint Stormwater Ordinance

  B. Plazas, walkways, bridges, boardwalks, access stairways and art may be constructed up to 10’ below the applicable high water mark if used for civic space (CC 9-2-1-6-E) with public access. (This would allow the City to move forward but would ensure that if other development of this type occurred it would at least be public space.)

F.  The Conditional Use Permit process shall recognize Sand Creek is a natural, environmental feature of major importance that shall remain protected.  Development shall be commensurate with the physical characteristics of Sand Creek and protect fish, wildlife, recreation resources, and avoid undue water and air pollution. An effective vegetative buffer upland of the applicable high-water mark shall be incorporated as one method of protection….unless determined impractical by an Idaho licensed professional engineer or licensed landscape architect, whereby. Alternative methods of protection, of equal or greater effectiveness, will be required if anything is constructed within 25’ of the applicable high-water mark.  Such methods and their effectiveness must be engineered by a licensed engineer and verified by the City engineer.   

Thank you for your time and consideration. Feel free to contact me anytime if you have any questions or would like to discuss the matter further.  

Sincerely,

Steve Holt

Executive Director – Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper

Email: steve@lpow.org

View the PDF of our letter here