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Friday, April 29, 2011

...And Then You Win Some

Four years. Four long years fighting to keep our rural valley in norther Idaho rural. And, now, we've won! Last night, the Kootenai County Board of County Commissioners voted 3-0 that the proposed wedding/special events center had no place in rural areas of the county - that it would fit in a commercial zone; that the commissioners wouldn't pass a text amendment to county zoning ordinances to facilitate commercial resorts, and would not authorize a conditional use permit to the applicants.

What did it take? Community organizing - all but one family in our valley was opposed to the "party barn," and registered their objections throughout the process. Effort - forming an association to challenge the county Planning Department (and win) in district court, meeting frequently and attending way too many hearings of government commissions and boards. Money - people throughout our valley (and a few from other parts of the county) donated tens of thousands of dollars to the fight. Persistence - going through county files and filing lots of public records requests. Professional help - a great attorney and an experienced planning consultant. The electoral process - the Board of County Commissioners granted the applicants a conditional use permit in 2009 on a 2-1 vote. In 2010, two commissioners were voted out of office - one supporter of the party barn and one opponent. They were replaced by two commissioners who saw to the heart of the problems with county planning processes and dragged along the remaining commissioner who had approved the project in 2009. So, a clean win.

And why does it really matter? I've come to cherish the rural lifestyle that has can be difficult to maintain, and easy to lose - the quiet mornings, punctuated by the calls of magpies, chickadees, and wild turkeys; the walks on our property, among the deer and the burbles of our spring, the breeze through the pines, firs, and aspens; the herd of elk that graze and then bed down for the night in the meadow by our house and on our middle hillside; neighbors who help you free your chainsaw from a tall tree, who ask your help to clear a line of sight for their satellite TV signal, who graze their cattle on your land and who graze your cattle on their spring grass. The enjoyment of neighboring children riding their horses along the county road and onto our trails.

This win also shows that, while you might not be able to fight city, you can fight the county - if you try hard enough.

Congratulations to everyone involved in our fight - and a big thanks to the Kootenai County Board of County Commissioners.

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