County subdivision violation notices going
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
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
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
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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