After uniting to block a proposed subdivision earlier this year, residents in a Polson neighborhood are once again banding together to seek a zoning change aimed at heading off further development.
The Polson City-County Planning Board last week approved a preliminary request to reclassify county-owned portions of the Grays Acres neighborhood as a low-density residential district.
While the action was the first step in a multi-month process culminating in approval from both the Polson and Lake County Commission, the subject nevertheless stirred up a lively debate from members of the public.
Local developer Gehrand Bechard, whose application for a subdivision at the corner of 13th Avenue East and 11th Street East was denied in January after encountering strong opposition, said the change from medium to low density will stifle growth, prevent affordable housing development and “pigeonhole” lower-income residents to other parts of town.
“This is a very weighty topic tonight,” he said, noting that he spoke for developers in general and that his property was not included in the proposal.
Reiterating arguments that emerged in January, residents argued that the neighborhood’s street and infrastructure can’t handle additional development.
Donna Houle said that the Grays Acres area already suffers traffic congestion and low water pressure. Continuing to build apartment complexes, she said, will exasperate these problems.
“You’re going to want more and more,” she said. “We don’t have more.”
Ben Anciaux, who submitted the zone change request on behalf of the neighborhood residents, noted that 25 out of the 33 affected homeowners signed a letter supporting the zone change.
“We’re a democracy,” he said. “That simple fact alone should be enough to pass this.”
Highlighting an underlying theme of the discussion, proponents of the change argued that subdivisions lower surrounding property values and change the character of traditionally single-family neighborhoods.
Bechard, however, said that offering affordable housing provides a service to the community.
“Some people think of them as slums or full of prostitution or whatever it is,” Gehrand said. “That’s not the case with my properties, here or in California.”
The issue raised questions for Tana Seeley, who owns and manages several rental properties included in the request. Seeley asked if existing duplexes and multifamily units would be impacted by the change.
Board Chairman Sam Jacobson said that existing properties are typically “grandfathered in” during zone changes, but future additions such as accessory dwelling units or “mother-in-law homes” could be prevented under the low-density classification.
As the proposal moves forward, Lake County Planning Director Jacob Feistner said that if 40 percent of the affected property owners expressed opposition the request would fail.
“This is the first step in a two or three month process,” he said.