A spate of minor subdivision permit applications have received denial requests from the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council, reflecting a new awareness of growth and demand for real estate, officials said.
The opposition is not typical of the tribe, Kootenai County director of community development David Callahan said in a recent meeting with commissioners. Initially, he said, he believed the reasoning came from the recurring tendency for major subdivision applications to “disguise” themselves as minor developments to “bypass” the more rigorous review process.
“Our codes are currently in place, so there’s nothing stopping you from making a handful of (subdivisions) next to each other and thus bypassing what should be a major subdivision,” Callahan said. “We do a much higher level of review for major subdivisions than for minors, and we get bigger streets that meet road district standards.”
However, a letter from the chief of the Coeur d’Alene tribe, Chief Allan, explained that the reason for the denial of a recent minor subdivision application was that it violated the tribe’s integrated resource management plan. The plan, adopted in 2011, aims to “protect the health, welfare and economic development of the tribe and its members.”
“When this large-scale minor subdivision request came in, it really caught the tribe off guard,” said Coeur d’Alene tribe lawyer Tyrel Stevenson. “I think this first exposed what could be seen as a loophole in the planning code, but also opened the eyes of the tribal council to what is happening more broadly in the area.”
The most important impetus behind the opposition, explained Stevenson, is the impact of escalating property values, pressures to expand and the repeated division of property could have on the long-term health of Reserve.
According to the plan, the subdivision application in question was in the rural area of the reserve, which is not designated for development.
“The tribe is very concerned about further development and would really like to start a conversation with the county about what this should look like,” Stevenson said. “The tribe sees farmland as an irreplaceable commodity. Once it’s developed, you can’t come back from it, and that’s something we see across the west.”
Citing the US Supreme Court v Montana case, Allan’s letter affirmed the refusal based on the inherent power that a tribe retains to “exercise civil authority over the conduct of non-Indians over the fee lands within its reserve “when it directly affects their political integrity, economic security, health or well-being.
“Tribal hunting, fishing, gathering and spiritual uses of the land are increasingly limited and threatened by other land uses such as residential, commercial, agricultural, forestry, recreational, utilities and transportation.” , says Allan’s letter. “This project poses a threat to the health and well-being of the tribe.”
Historically, county attorney Pat Braden said, when a development project is proposed on land on the reserve, the county’s community development department refers it back to the tribe for comment.
Callahan and Braden said they had never seen case law used by the tribe in a land use case before.
With a model of tribal denial on the major and minor subdivisions, Braden explained that it would be difficult to justify approval on the tribe’s objection.
“We should deny these things when the tribe recommends denial because it is a competent agency,” Callahan said. “In the past, we regularly approved of this stuff. Now we regularly rejected it, and I expect there will be a public outcry about it.”
Stevenson said the last thing the Coeur d’Alene Tribe wants to do is damage the tribe’s relationship with agencies or community members. Instead, they hope to strike up a conversation about managing land use to protect tribal land and private property rights.
While the tribe has objected to recent requests, Stevenson said the council is always ready to work with the developers to iron out disagreements.
“Private property rights are a very important right that the tribe recognizes,” Stevenson said. “The right to subdivide is something that the relevant agencies have the power to regulate, and it’s something that I think the tribe would very much appreciate a conversation about in this area.”
Commissioners and staff agreed that opening a dialogue with the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council on land use issues would be beneficial in moving forward in a period of rapid growth.