I read a new take on the big "D" word today. Seems a DEVELOPER who's involved in the preliminary aspects of building 1,500 homes on the Rickel Ranch just off Highway 95 south of Athol addressed concerns about what's causing the population boom in North Idaho. He said it had nothing to do with developers; instead, his opponents need to look at what's happening in the maternity wards.
That makes me a bit nervous, knowing the way some locals can react to having their space overrun with a whole bunch more people. Will pregnant mothers be in danger now that this developer has spilled the beans? Will irate folks wishing to express concerns about mega-housing developments showing up next door now start picketing hospitals and labor rooms to "stop the crazy growth" (thanks to a fellow Huckleberries Online blogger for that terminology) rather than attending stack-the-deck planning and zoning meetings?
This claim also begs the question: are women suddenly back to having a dozen babies per family? I don't think so. Somehow, I don't think maternity rooms should get the sole blame for development in North Idaho. My theory is that development is occurring at high rates in this area for the same reasons it's happening virtually all over the United States.
Telecommunications advancements have allowed people to be much more flexible about where they do their work. No longer do they necessarily have to spend their careers in population centers. This phenomenon has been unfolding over the past decade, along with some aggressive marketing of our area. The "if you build it, they will come" philosophy also plays a part in our population influx as does a huge retiring baby boomer generation.
I was told by a realtor the other day that for the next 12 years we can expect to see a booming real estate market, especially in the South, because of our huge retiring crop of maternity ward products from the '40s and '50s. Finally, I think our world economy plays a role in what we're seeing show up in our disappearing farm fields.
Those fields are becoming available to developers because of the increasingly prohibitive cost of farming. I just did a story about Harvey and Leslie Lippert who recently won a Young Farmer and Rancher award for the North Idaho region. Though they're dedicated to spending their lives working the soil, they worry about being priced out of this dream because of rising fuel and fertilizer cost, along with that of the necessary huge implements needed to do their work.
So, the developments continue to dominate the local planning and zoning, commissioners' and city council meetings. This Rickel Ranch development appears a bit different from the original idea I heard about while interviewing Gary Norton for Sandpoint Magazine a couple of years ago. He's the genius who created Silverwood. At the time, he was expressing the desire to complement his ever-growing theme park by creating a town at the Rickel Ranch, dedicated specifically to a family atmosphere.
I don't know if he's connected with this developer because the approach seems to be different, according to this morning's Spokesman. The same guy who blamed his job on maternity wards says he wants the 1,500 homes to offer affordable housing. I think a price of $125,000 homes was mentioned. In today's construction market, I wonder what those are gonna look like and how long they're gonna last.
Speaking of affordable housing, I've also heard about another developer's dream for the old Elmira townsite north of here. One of my former students, Kent Compton, has purchased the townsite and is planning his own attempt at offering affordable housing. I do believe, however, he's looking at a little more money going into each house he plans to build on the individual lots up there off Highway 95. He also told me that he hopes to use part of the area to showcase Elmira's history as a rough-and-tumble railroad town.
I'll hand it to Kent because he hasn't used the "maternity ward" card in rationalizing his approach to Elmira. He's a developer. He hopes to provide a need, and he admits he'd like to make a little money while doing it.
So, I think Bonner General Hospital and all potential mothers it serves are safe. I don't know about Kootenai Medical Center, though. Those young mothers-to-be might be wise to come in the back door when they show up for the labor room until this developer comes up with a new reason for planning those 1,500 homes at the Rickel Ranch.