Transitional housing, tiny home plan pulled

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Staff Writer

COEUR d'ALENE — A transitional housing project of tiny homes has been placed on the backburner due to vocal opposition.

The Kaleidoscope Community Services nonprofit planned to apply for a conditional-use permit for the Pathfinder Tiny House Village this month as a two-year pilot project on the 5-acre site west of the Coeur d'Alene Paving gravel pit off Highway 53 and Wilkinson near Garwood.

However, outcry during and after the second of two informational meetings about the project last month prompted the retreat.

"We need to work in such a way where we can assist in coming up with community solutions that have wide support of citizens as well as stakeholders," Gar Mickelson, the nonprofit's executive director, wrote in an email to supporters. "The Pathfinder Tiny House Village in its current state and location simply does not have the support it needs to be successful."

Mickelson described the opposition at the second meeting as "hostile."

"There was an off-duty officer in the crowd and Rathdrum Police was called," he said. "(The opposition) didn't even give us an opportunity to answer their questions without further interruptions.

"The crowd did not show up to get information. They showed up to vent. This meeting took us off guard because the first one went so well. It was an ambush, a debacle of the highest degree."

Those in opposition believe the project would reduce property values in that area and lead to crime and other issues.

The roadblock stalls the momentum for transitional housing in rural areas of Kootenai County. Earlier this year, county commissioners approved the use with a conditional-use permit in high-density residential, commercial, mining and light industrial zones.

Public hearings to add additional zones, including agricultural, agricultural suburban and restricted residential could be held before the planning commission in July and county commissioners in August, said David Callahan, the county's community development director.

Callahan said he believes transitional housing is worthy of exploring, but he also suggested to Mickelson that it would be difficult to approve the conditional-use permit based on the vocal outcry.

"That sort of opposition is often what kills a project," he said. "Find community support or another location. It's a useful project that could benefit someone, but it's a matter of being in the right spot. With the conditional-use process, timing is everything."

Even after the two informational meetings on the proposal, Callahan said his office received several inquiries on whether the CUP application had been submitted.

Mickelson said the decision to hold back on submitting the CUP application is difficult when he and supporters are trying to help those in need, but he also said there has been success with the code changes and public awareness about the need for such a project.

"Through our initiative, we have brought urgent needs to a community level," he said, adding that he plans to continue to do whatever he can to raise the awareness level.

The first phase of the project was planned to have 10 10-by-16 cabins with heat and electricity that can house up to two adults and two children. The cabins would be on skids so they can be moved if necessary. It was anticipated to be ready in the fall, pending the CUP process.

Other features of the village included: fencing, a shower trailer, security and medical cabins, portable toilets, garden and playground areas, transportation, parking for 19 cars and visits by church volunteers and community partners providing services.

The target demographic was families, women with children, seniors and veterans who are "episodically homeless and motivated to change."

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