Saturday, September 25, 2021

Scenic beauty and hillside development

| March 24, 2021 11:54 AM

While this letter mainly concerns the city of Wallace, it has ramifications for the entire Silver Valley and county. As the population of Coeur d’Alene continues to explode and the area fills up with housing, development will shift east, impacting our quiet towns and way of life. In fact, Idaho is the fastest growing state in America which is being fueled by fear and high costs elsewhere. For the record, I build for a living and I am not opposed to sane development and it is inevitable that Wallace and Shoshone County will be impacted by increased development, whether we like it or not. The only question is: are we going to be proactive and control growth or are we going to let unmeasured and unplanned development control us?

Since most of the Valley floor is already occupied with housing and development, developers are now seeking to carve roads into our pristine mountain sides in Wallace, Pinehurst, Silverton and elsewhere. In a visionary effort, Courtney Frieh of Wallace has crafted a proposal to regulate impacts to scenic beauty and preserve the beautiful mountain-scape surrounding Wallace. The proposal is now pending before the County Commissioners. I believe this proposal has great merit.

There are a host of issues that need to be addressed when building new structures and developments, particularly on pristine, undeveloped land with steep slopes. Typically, new developments socialize costs while privatizing profits because a majority of profits go into the pocket of the developers, leaving only some small trickle down effects. These social costs include, but are not limited to: (1) wild-land-urban fire interface, which could produce catastrophic fires not unlike those we witness now; (2) without developer impact fees, the cost and ongoing maintenance of new roads and utilities will be passed on to existing taxpayers; (3) property taxes from new development taxes often do not outweigh the increased burdens on police, fire and schools services, so property taxes on existing homes will be raised to cover additional services; and (4) developers rely on existing public facilities and infrastructure already paid for by previous property taxes like sewers, roads, schools and medical facilities to sell their properties which, again like social services, requires additional taxes on current residents and taxpayers to cover expansion. Existing regulations do not require developer impact fees to mitigate these burdens and costs.

There are also quality of life and environmental issues that need to be taken into account such as: (1) construction of new hillside developments will negatively impact scenic beauty, increase traffic and create significant noise and light pollution; (2) degradation of water quality stemming from erosion and runoff of soils and contaminants into our waterways and fisheries; and (3) loss of wildlife habitat. Thus, while developers purport to care about the public by creating more housing, they fail to look at detrimental long-term impacts and the fact that once the environment is destroyed, it cannot be regained at any price.