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Toned down "Beartaria" proposed in conditional use application

May 3, 2022
Owen Benjamin Smith on his 10-acre property on the Moyie River.

By Mike Weland

After raising the concerns of neighbors last year with wide ranging plans for a "Beartaria Sanctuary" on a 10-acre parcel along the Moyie River on Earl Lane Road, Struggle Bear LLC and Owen and Amy Smith, Sandpoint, have engaged a Sagle landscape architect and filed application with county planning and zoning for a conditional use permit to define the uses proposed and, if approved, become the controlling document for uses on the property.

On May 25, 2021, a contingent of neighbors and people concerned by the social media posts of Owen Benjamin (Smith), a former Hollywood comedian, which touted a haven for his "Bears," or followers, promising everything ranging from tactical firearms training in "his new Ruby Ridge style compound" to idyllic self-sustained living in a Beartaria Sanctuary open to all Bears who contributed $400.

The plan outlined in conditional use application 22-0111, submitted April 4, is far more specific and far more sedate, with a total of six guest cabins and a storage building for recreational use, with an estimated two guest visits and an average of six vehicle trips per day.

"Purpose of use is to support private recreational use of the property by the landowner's family and guests," the application reads.

The proposal is for four cabins 20 by 20 feet in size, three cabins 12 by 12 feet in size and a 12 by 12 foot storage building for tools and a portable toilet. Some of the cabins were built last year.

All the buildings proposed are within an area of 1,632 square feet, with the nearest property line 74-feet away.

A public hearing before the planning and zoning commission is pending, with no date set as yet, but the applicants are seeking to begin working immediately pn approval and hope to have construction finished by July 1.

Once public hearing is scheduled, 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.
Proposed site map

Questions or Comments? Send us an email!

Mike Weland, Publisher

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

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