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No Beartaria violations, planners conclude

 
July 26, 2021
 
 


By Mike Weland

 
After complaints ongoing since April, Boundary County assistant contract planner Tessa Vogel visited property on Earl Lane Road owned by Struggle Bear LLC and Owen Benjamin Smith, Sandpoint, better known to his followers as Owen Benjamin, and concluded that there are no violations of the county zoning and subdivision ordinance.

Her report was released today.

The first complaint over use of the 10-acre property was made April 14 by Terry Auten, who'd sold the property to Struggle Bear only to learn via Benjamin's internet postings that the former actor and comedian was soliciting "donations" in exchange for allowing access to the property and a variety of activities not compatible with the ag/forestry zone, to include RV spaces, tactical firearms training and more.

Numerous additional complaints were subsequently filed with planning and zoning, and after getting no response, several complainants met with county commissioners May 25 as Benjamin Owen, via his almost daily videos on social media, continued discussing plans to develop a haven for his followers, who identify themselves as "bears," and setting up a work session to build their compound, where they could learn to garden and train with weapons for the coming societal collapse.

Local coverage of that meeting drew Benjamin's ire and his response garnered national media attention, including the Spokesman Review and the Daily Beast.

Boundary County contract planner Clare Marley sent Struggle Bear LLC notice of potential violation June 3, and Owen Benjamin and wife, Amy, both called county P&Z June 7, leaving messages that there is no violation, no plans for an RV park, private residence or cabin over 950 square feet.

Amy emailed again June 16, as they had not heard back.

On July 12, Vogel, a land use planner with Ruen-Yeager & Associates, Inc., traveled to the area accompanied by undersheriff Rich Stephens, and concluded that from what she could see from the road, there does not appear to be any construction that would require a conditional use permit.

Neighbors say there has been little to no activity on the property since early June, but their concerns haven't eased.

Benjamin's social media releases and requests for donations for his "bear Utopia" haven't slowed, though he promises in a July 20, "Big Bear" Benjamin post that his long, rambling Big Bear video solicitation for "donations" will become more private.

County civil attorney Tevis Hull has acknowledged that this is a fluid, dynamic situation that will need to monitored as time goes on for any further evidence of impermissible activity.
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