Sunday, May 09, 2021
45.0°F

Proposed recreation park near Lakeside draws local opposition

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | April 14, 2021 2:10 AM

A proposal to build an outdoor recreation park near the west shore of Flathead Lake has drawn immense opposition from neighbors, who have launched an online petition and submitted numerous comments to the Lake County Planning Board saying the development is unwelcome.

Torsten and Jessica Wedel are asking the board to change zoning regulations so they can build the park on about 17 acres between Lakeside and Rollins, on the west side of U.S. 93 and just south of Goose Bay and Table Bay. The Wedels say they aim to provide family-friendly activities for both locals and tourists outside the more popular areas of the Flathead Valley.

The proposed amendment to the county's Upper West Shore Zoning District regulations would allow for a range of commercial outdoor recreation activities, including nature viewing, ax throwing, outdoor laser tag, miniature golf, gem mining, rope courses, zip lines, summer day camps, horseback riding, tubing hills and "mountain rides."

The amended regulations would specifically prohibit commercial swimming pools, water parks, bowling alleys, RV parks and commercial resorts.

Currently, only a few commercial activities, such as vacation rentals and bed-and-breakfasts, are permitted in the area subject to the proposed change, known as Subdistrict C.

Dozens of homeowners in Subdistrict C and surrounding areas have submitted letters of opposition to the Planning Board, which is scheduled to consider the proposal on Wednesday. Many raised concerns about noise, impacts on wildlife and the environment, and additional traffic on U.S. 93, and said they had not received adequate formal notice of the proposal.

One resident, Tess Kiesz, started a petition opposing the project on Change.org, which had garnered more than 15,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon. She characterized the proposed attraction as an "amusement park" and a blemish on the area's natural scenery.

"How this project is being handled is setting a precedent for how future developments will play out," Kiesz wrote. "No amount of money this park will bring in could ever make up for the priceless value of our Montana lands. The speed and secrecy at which this development plan has been pushed only underscores how horrific the negative effects will be not only to Lake County, the Flathead Valley, but Montana as a whole."

THE WEDELS, who live in Stevensville, head the North American branch of Wiegand, a German company that manufactures slides, toboggan runs and unpowered roller coasters that many ski resorts use to attract business during the warmer months. But in an email Friday, the couple told the Daily Inter Lake the company is not involved in their plans for the outdoor park.

They also indicated neighbors' characterizations of the project are overblown, and said they have been in communication with conservation groups and the Montana Department of Transportation.

"We are not planning a theme park, waterpark, etc.," Torsten Wedel wrote. "We believe that the possibilities with this text amendment would provide diversity to the lake activities and provide ease to the congested lake access points. We think diverse activities help with the overcrowding of the current popular areas."

Lake County Commissioner Bill Barron said the park, as proposed, would be nothing like a typical amusement park — for example, North Idaho's Silverwood Theme Park, with its waterslides, swimming pools and towering metal roller coasters.

"It's not going to be a Silverwood," Barron said Friday. "There aren't going to be a bunch of carnival rides and things like that."

THE PROJECT still requires several rounds of approval before it can come to fruition. The county commissioners would consider the proposed text amendment in May if the Planning Board forwards a positive recommendation after its Wednesday meeting. Only then could the Wedels apply for a conditional-use permit and undergo building and environmental reviews by local and state officials.

"If you look at this as like a 100-yard dash, this process is the first yard in the dash," Barron said. "It's just the one step, and there's another whole process if they get this amendment."

Barron said the county has received "hundreds" of phone calls and emails complaining about the project this week. But he's not ready to make a decision about the merits of the proposed park.

"Until we started getting phone calls, I didn't even know about it, because it's not at the point where it reaches the commissioners' desk yet," he said. "It's just too early for me to say one way or the other. I need to look at all the information before I make a decision."

Reporter Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4439 or csokol@dailyinterlake.com