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A refresher on Boundary County P&Z

November 3, 2022

With a contentious midterm election cycle nearing its end and Boundary County planning and zoning having been raised as an issue, it might not be a bad time to offer the community a refresher, a look at the introduction to the Boundary County Zoning and Subdivision Ordinance, first drafted in 1997 and included with each revision of the ordinance since, including the one in effect now.

Boundary County, Idaho, is a unique place, and this ordinance was written to reflect the rural mores and lifestyle of this community.

Those who call Boundary County home take great pride in the rugged surroundings, and work hard to make a living from the forests and farms. Most still retain a friendly neighborliness you'll find in few other places.

Those who are contemplating purchasing rural property here or who are considering making the great outdoors of Boundary County home should be aware that life is different here than it is nearly anywhere you may be coming from. This preface is not meant to scare anyone away, merely to point out some of the differences you can expect so you can make decisions that will help you enjoy all our community has to offer.

Because the county is predominately rural, please remember that the services you may have taken for granted elsewhere are not always available in Boundary County. Winter snows often knock out power, sometimes for days or weeks on end, and roads are often rendered impassable by snow or by flooding in the spring when the snow melts. Boundary County does have an extensive network of county roads, but some of those roads aren't maintained in the winter, so access is not always guaranteed. Many lots and parcels are accessible only by private road, and it's important that property owners are aware of the legal aspects of access, especially if you have to gain that access across someone else's property. It's also important to remember that maintaining a private road, and that includes plowing it in winter and repairing it in the spring, is the responsibility of the property owners, not the county.

Winter conditions are extremely hard on roads, both paved and graveled. Boundary County spends a considerable amount each year maintaining its roads, but very often it takes much of the summer just to repair all the damage from the previous winter. Therefore, even when the weather is nice, road conditions often aren't.

Trained volunteers provide fire protection and emergency medical services in Boundary County, but because of the distances involved and because conditions are not always favorable, response time can be delayed.

Utilities and services are not available everywhere in Boundary County. Electrical service is not available in many areas and many here rely on alternate energy sources for their homes. If you happen to locate in an area served by a water district, hooking up can be expensive. If not, a well or surface water is the only option, and in some areas, neither are available. There are no sewage systems in rural areas of the county, and some areas of the county have soils unsuitable for the installation of a septic system and leach field, meaning that if an option is available, it will be more expensive.

It is always wise to check on the availability of utilities before you put up the down payment. It's also wise to check beforehand to ensure that you'll be able to use your property as you intend; not all lots in the county are open to development. If a lot was created in violation of this ordinance, as sometimes happens, no zoning certificates will be issued. There are also flood plains throughout the community, where additional restrictions apply before any development can begin.

You should also check to make sure you have legal access to your property and that you are aware of any easements that may exist; it's not a bad idea to make sure a parcel has been surveyed prior to purchase. The cost will most likely be added to the purchase price, but at least you'll know exactly what you're buying. Relying on a fence line, a rock or the tree out back is not always prudent.

Be sure to check out the neighborhood, too. Businesses are located throughout the county; some are noisy, some bring increased traffic and dust; but as they were there first, you'll have no room to complain if you choose to build nearby. Agriculture is prevalent throughout the county, and if you buy next to a hog farm, you can expect the breeze will be a little less than sweet when it blows your way. Farmers work around the clock, and the dust and noise can certainly disrupt your peace and quiet.

Another economic mainstay is forestry. Over 75 percent of the land base in Boundary County is managed by the Idaho Department of Lands, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. If you buy a parcel because the trees across the road make for a pretty view, don't be too disappointed if sometime in the future loggers move in and begin turning them into boards and other products. Burning is an integral part of both farming and forestry; fields and slash-piles are burned each year, resulting in a wide-spread smoky haze.

The forests here are beautiful, and they provide a home for many species of wild animal. The area abounds with deer, elk, moose, mountain lion, bear and other creatures. The key word to remember is "wild." Even the most innocent animal, like deer, cross roads and create hazards. Bear enjoy nothing more than a meal, and one of the surest sources of food is the trash we set within their reach. If bear can smell it, they'll most likely get it; even if it’s in a can or on your back porch.

That brook babbling in your back yard can become a raging torrent during spring thaw and even the trees can turn dangerous. Forest fires are a way of life here, and if you build without being aware of the danger, it's possible you'll come to regret it.

Many people coming into Boundary County consider the contents of this ordinance lenient. While the State of Idaho does require adherence to the Idaho Building Code, there are no additional restrictions imposed by Boundary County and no additional local building inspections. The procedures set down here are fairly straight-forward and the fees are lower than nearly any place else.

It is the belief of the county that people who buy and build a here have the right to build the home that best suits them with minimal intrusion; if the roof caves in under the weight of the snow, they'll know better next time. Conversely, you may build a beautiful home that meets the most stringent building codes, but your next door neighbor may not. County government will not intercede on your behalf to make your neighbor live up to your standards.

The information provided here is by no means complete, nor is it intended to be. It's our goal to provide you food for thought; it's your responsibility to take into consideration the things that are important to you.

Questions or Comments? Send us an email!

Mike Weland, Publisher

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

A 9B Media LLC publication
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