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Concerned about 'Ursa Rio' inconsistencies

August 15, 2022

Boundary County Commissioners and planning and zoning staff:

This may all turn out okay, with everyone living happily ever after, but before you let Owen Benjamin’s Ursa Rio “improved” campsites (his lawyer’s words) proceed without a permit, consider the following information provided to county P&Z staff and commissioners:
  • The purchase and development of this property were funded by many hundreds of donations in 2020 and 2021.
  • Donors were invited to camp on this property.
  • Last fall, applicant announced construction of an amphitheater on this property for events.

Confronted with this information at the P&Z hearing, applicant claimed it was “all lies” and applied to another parcel he did not buy, and that he “never solicited funds for use of this property.” As public officials, you should be concerned about these inconsistencies.

Interestingly, the donation link* that was live at the time of the P&Z hearing has recently been removed. It previously stated:

“All donations are paid to a for-profit company and does not constitute any charitable tax advantages ... If you are unable to donate through this website, please send cash or check to: Owen Benjamin Inc., PO Box 490, Sandpoint, ID 83864, Subject Line on check: Bear Trail Idaho ... Donate towards the creation of a community campground with cabins and utility. Your name and email address will be added to an exclusive list that will be given access to campgrounds year round depending on space available. MINIMUM DONATION is $400.”

Applicant should be required to explain why this use is not commercial. Simply saying it is for family and friends is not sufficient, given many past statements otherwise.

Zoning is intended to protect the safety and health of all Boundary County residents. The zoning regulations may be vague and need updating, but county government cannot hide behind this vagueness and ignore the problems that could arise if the applicant reverts to his original intentions.
Nothing in the regs allows an unpermitted campground with six permanent structures in a residential suburban zone. The closest analog, recreational hospitality (a commercial use), requires review of traffic, noise, and distance from existing homes. Parking and road condition are also issues here.

Several commissioners voiced concern about others building similar campgrounds on their five- or ten-acre parcels. This is common sense. At a minimum, you should impose enforceable permit conditions to protect existing residents.

* TheGreatBearTrail.com (copyright 2020); “donate,” https://thegreatbeartrail.com/support/.
Elaine Duncan
Earl Lane Road
Bonners Ferry

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Mike Weland, Publisher

6931 Main St.
P.O. Box 1625
Bonners Ferry, ID 83805
(208) 295-1016

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