By BRIAN WALKER
RATHDRUM — Different public hearing, same subject, same result.
The Rathdrum City Council unanimously approved Bluegrass Developments’ 152-acre annexation request for a single-family housing project near the southeast corner of Meyer and Lancaster roads after an emotional 2.5-hour meeting attended by about 40 people at Lakeland High on Wednesday night.
"I'm happy with how it's been presented to us," council member Debbie Holmes said. "I'm from somewhere else, and I came here for a better life, too. I think other people should have that opportunity."
Council member Fred Meckel added: "I'm in favor of smart growth and this is the definition of it."
The project, which includes a 10-acre donation to the Lakeland Joint School District for a future elementary school, is expected to have roughly 400 to 450 homes.
The council's decision came after five people spoke in favor of the request during the public hearing, one neutral and eight against.
Those in favor said the project would give families a desirable place to live in a popular city and meet a demand, while those against cited infrastructure concerns and that it could hamper Rathdrum's small-town feel.
The hearing was a do-over as a notice glitch with last month's hearing in which the council unanimously approved the proposal prompted the new one. At the previous hearing, no one spoke in opposition.
Two public hearings were also held at the planning and zoning level after the first was nixed due to potential conflicts of interest by board members. In both cases, the request earned approval recommendations.
Deborah Rose, who lives in Athol but also owns property in Rathdrum, argued that the request should be denied because she believes there is already suitable vacant land in the city to accommodate growth and that the project doesn't offer a use that will benefit existing Rathdrum residents.
"Numerous studies have shown that increased residential properties require more expensive services than the property tax they generate, including in Kootenai County," Rose said. "This will cause the current citizens of Rathdrum to pay higher taxes in order to subsidize incoming residents."
Rose added that the 10-acre school donation site is a "drop in the bucket" compared to the cost of building a school that residents will have to shoulder.
Applicant Tom Anderl, who has worked on other local projects with John Magnuson, countered that the donation is not insignificant, adding that the school district estimated it at $700,000.
Rathdrum resident Dani Mitchell said property owners should be able to sell their property and subdivide it, but it's unfortunate that the project of its size would likely put a strain on infrastructure.
City officials said, however, that there's ample water and Rathdrum's roads and contract with Post Falls to treat its wastewater are in good shape.
Rathdrum resident Patrice Stills said she hates to see the entire Rathdrum Prairie headed for buildout.
"I feel like I'd have to leave if that happens," she said. "I've even lost sleep about it. I hope it doesn't turn into one big suburban area."
Hayden Anderl, Tom's son, spoke in favor of the request, calling it "well-planned out." He added that the project will be built out over several years.
Don Jacklin, whose family has longtime agricultural roots in the area, also believes the project will benefit the area.
"It's the right thing to do," he said. "This is good planning by good developers."
He added that 5-acre lots would force scattered development on the prairie.
Tom Anderl said he understands that people cringe over growth, but the project will increase the city's tax base, provide jobs and its impacts will be mitigated by impact fees.
"If you look at something long enough, you begin to think you own it," he said, reciting a quote his father told him. "This is a sensible project, a natural extension of the city and we believe we are the right people to develop it."