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Beartaria video indicates P&Z violation

 
September 18, 2021
 

By Mike Weland

Owen Benjamin doing the milking
Former Hollywood actor and comic Owen Benjamin Smith, better known as Owen Benjamin, earlier this week released for his "bears" a long awaited documentary on Beartaria, a dream development being built on ten acres along the Moyie River off Earl Lane Road south of Good Grief. It attempts to portray a bucolic and pastoral place where a legion of "bears" from around the world who give Benjamin money can visit at will to work, camp, fish, raise livestock, grow their own food and learn to live off the grid sustainability.

Cabins to stay in if tents won't do, a natural amphitheater for weddings, entertainment and other functions.

Unfortunately, the documentary stars Owen, and despite an obviously sincere attempt, he isn't able to refrain from the head-in-the-gutter invective, intolerance and banal  right wing profundities that, he spent considerable time bemoaning, ended his Hollywood career, derailed his ability to get bookings on the standup circuit and even got him kicked off YouTube and other social platforms, sharply curtailing his ability to earn a living.

Sadly, his stream-of-consciousness ramblings flip-flop with dizzying speed between wholesome, healthy living to "edgy" ad hominem attacks on the "fairy's boner Herald," "gammas," gays, pedophiles, pedophile wheelchair guy Mike Weland and much much more, even bringing in local guests to give additional insights with which to enlighten his bears, including Lordship Church Pastor Warren Campbell, Redoubt Realtor "Turbo" Todd Savage, and a man identified as "concrete guy," who said he was stunned to learn when he moved here that the media has already been taken over, that the city is "trying to do some LGBTQ kind of stuff," bring in that progressive, liberal mentality and "they're taking over the city council with a whole bunch of weird stuff like critical race theory."

"It's going to start turning into a little California!" he moaned. "I'm so glad you guys are here."

It's uncertain if intentional, but another brief video clip posted to Instagram this week and shared widely appears to refute Benjamin's avowed contention that he's not broken any local zoning laws.

In May, concerned by contradictory claims aired by Benjamin in long, rambling and almost daily videos released via social media to his bears asking for money, several area residents, fearful of the establishment of an armed enclave next door, met with county commissioners to discuss the development after earlier complaints to county planning and zoning went unanswered.

 
Coverage of that meeting stirred considerable excitement.

On June 3, a potential notice of violation was issued to New York corporation Struggle Bear LLC, Owen Benjamin Smith, Sandpoint, signatory.

That resulted in an investigation, and in July, county civil attorney Tevis Hull determined that there were no zoning violations as a result of work done to date, with foundations for three cabins having been poured.

But as shown in this week's clip, there now appear to be six guest cabins under construction. If so, that's a violation requiring a $90 permit and one public hearing to remedy.

Boundary County Zoning and Subdivision Ordinance 9B18LOV2, adopted December 11, 2017, at Chapter 15 establishes several different use classifications; unregulated, unrestricted, light, moderate, etc. The 10-acre Beartaria parcel  is zoned Agriculture/Forestry, and Chapter 15.9 sets the specifications applicable to development in the ag/forestry zone district.

As presented in the bucolic descriptions Benjamin lays out in the documentary, the use proposed would be classified as recreational. Chapter 2, Definitions, defines three types of recreational use:
  • Private Recreational: A recreational use developed for the private enjoyment of an individual property owner and invited guests. Private recreational use may include but is not limited to; vacation, lake, river, hunting or ski cabins, recreational vehicle pads, and improved campsites.
  • Recreational Hospitality: Commercial uses established specifically to afford the general public access, accommodations and/or services by which the public may enjoy recreational opportunities on private land. Hospitality uses may include but are not limited to RV parks, motels, hotels or lodges, bed and breakfast establishments and inns.
  • Recreational Commercial: Recreational uses established to provide general public access to privately owned land upon which specific outdoor recreational activities or sports are to be offered commercially, to include but not limited to hunting and fishing lodges or shops, motorized off-road areas for snowmobiles, motorcycles, ATVs or other recreational vehicles, ski resorts or lodges, and hang gliding, parachuting or other aerial sport facilities.

While it may be unorthodox, Benjamin's use of crowd-funding would qualify the guest cabins as recreational hospitality, as he is offering access to the cabins to anyone who donates, $400 being the recommended amount.

In the ag/forestry zone district, recreational hospitality with five or fewer units is a moderate use, and listed as "unregulated 500," meaning that if no existing residence lies within 500 feet of any new structure being built, no permit is required.

Recreational hospitality uses exceeding five units are listed as a high-occupancy use, which requires a conditional use permit prior to the onset of construction of the sixth unit.

A conditional use permit process requires the property owner to establish in writing the scope of the development proposed, to include a site plan depicting the size and placement of existing and proposed structures and specific details of uses and activities proposed to be allowed on the parcel.

Once a complete application is submitted, public hearing is scheduled on the next available agenda of the county planning and zoning commission and public notice is sent out, to include letters to all property owners within 300-feet of the parcel boundaries.

At public hearing, the applicant or their representative may give an opening statement, typically explaining the nature and scope of the proposed use, how it might benefit the community as well as steps proposed to limit adverse impacts or address concerns of neighbors, which the wise applicant takes time to learn even before filing application.

While ex parte contact with zoning commissioners is prohibited, there is no prohibition against meeting with neighbors.

Members of the public are allowed to speak; first those in favor, then those uncommitted and finally from those opposed.

If all goes well, once everyone who wants to speak has had their say, the commission chair will close the hearing to further public testimony and call for discussion by members to develop reasoned findings of fact upon which to base a decision. At conclusion, the commission my deny the application, approve it as presented or approve it with conditions.

If approved, the findings developed become the controlling document for use on that specific parcel, superseding applicable provisions of the zoning ordinance. Violations of the terms of the permit can be enforced or prosecuted just as a violation of the zoning and subdivision ordinance itself. Amending a conditional use permit to change or allow additional or more intense uses requires a new application and a new public hearing.

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