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County subdivision violation notices going out

January 22, 2013
With the way the real estate market has been of late, there haven't been that many land divisions in Boundary County outside city limits since the new county zoning and subdivision ordinance was adopted in October, 2011, but according to zoning administrator Dan Studer, there have been several of late that haven't been done according to the new regulations.

Several people, he said, will be receiving notices soon informing them of the possible violations, asking them to voluntarily take steps to come into compliance.

In 2005, when land prices were booming, people packed the Bonners Ferry High School auditorium and all but demanded that county commissioners do something to end the lax rules meant to control the division of land and regulate growth in the county.

The laws in effect at the time, while they worked well when the demand for property wasn't robust, fell apart in 2004-2005, when land prices soared and speculators, most from out of town and seeing the many loopholes offered here, descended, buying up and dividing properties to offer as residential lots, often without legal access, adequate water or septic or other things most folks expect, offering buyers, most also from out of town, promises they had no intention of living up to.

By the time the buyers began noticing the shortcomings, the seller, in many cases, had taken the money and run. When they turned to the county for redress, they were often shocked to find that Boundary County is still a rural place ... we don't provide what they came to expect back home. Most were delighted at how simple our land use laws were, until discovering that they were left with what they bought, not what they thought they were getting.

In responses to that 2005 special hearing, commissioners put in place several new subdivision requirements by amending the existing ordinance, which had been in place since 1999, and bade the county planning and zoning commission to undertake a review of the county comprehensive plan, the document that set the goals for subsequent land use law.

The bottom fell out of the real estate boom, giving breathing room to allow a lot of public participation and consideration, so it wasn't until until six years had passed before the process was concluded with the adoption of County Ordinance 2012-1, the land use ordinance now in effect.

"Most of these violations, I think, were made simply because people didn't realize the rules had changed and don't know what the new rules are," Studer said. "The ones I've talked to so far have all said 'oops' and are taking steps to come into compliance.

As it has since amendments made after the 2005 hearing, the new laws require in nearly all cases that a process be undertaken before any division of land except in a few well-defined cases, such as land divisions made in the execution of a will or through action by the courts, such as through divorce.

Under the new rules, however, even those splits require documentation be provided the zoning ordinance so as to identify the non-conforming parcel.

Surprisingly, few if any will ever go to court or pay a fine for violating the subdivision ordinance; nothing in it precludes a person from dividing their land in any manner they see fit. It does, however, preclude the potential for developing that land; if someone down the road comes in for a building permit, they will be turned down ... any land divided in violation of the rules will now be put in a new, restricted zone, in which no development permit required by the county can be issued.

You can still farm it, plant a garden, grow livestock, hunt, camp or fish on it, but you can't build a home or establish a business there unless the parcels are brought into conformance; and going ahead and building anyway is a violation that will be enforced.

The big exception is not dividing the land, but offering it for sale and representing it as being in a subdivision and suitable for development when no final plat, approved by the county, has been recorded. Under Idaho Code, this is false representation, and under the new ordinance, both local and state charges can result.

Something else the new ordinance does that none have before is assure that lands that have been properly divided by plat can be used for residential or commercial development as allowed by the plat.

The new ordinance was designed to accommodate the greatest number of reasons lands are split; to give or sell land to family, to adjust lines between neighbors, to develop into a gated community with gates, paved roads, fountains and curbs or into large lots off the beaten path where few if any amenities are available.

It just requires documentation, not only for the county's use, but so buyers down the road can be assured of what they're buying with a certainty they can't depend on from an unscrupulous seller's promises.

As always in Boundary County, there are no restrictions or permits required on dividing land into parcels 20 acres in size or larger; if you want to build on anything that size or larger, a permit can be issued.

But before you divide any land in Boundary County below 20-acres, you need to visit the planning and zoning office, Room 16 of the county courthouse, 6452 Kootenai Street, Bonners Ferry, or call (208) 267-7212. And it's still always a good idea before you finalize the purchase of any land below 20 acres that you check with P&Z as well; it can save you some potentially nasty surprises.
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