Friday, October 15, 2021

Commissioners restore marina standards in zoning regs

Daily Inter Lake | September 29, 2021 12:00 AM

A zoning text amendment that adds marina as a conditional use in the B-3 community business zone was approved last week by the Flathead County commissioners, correcting an error when zoning changes were made in 2018.

The amendment also adds marina in the definition of a commercial recreational area.

While the text amendment is applicable for marinas in B-3 zones throughout all of Flathead County, there is particular interest in Bigfork because some property in Bigfork Bay is located in that community business zone.

Interim County Planning Director Eric Mack said the text amendment simply corrects an earlier oversight.

“Nobody’s proposing any marinas at this time,” Mack told the commissioners on Sept. 21. “If someone wanted to do a marina in the B3 zone, there would be a conditional-use process, which requires a public hearing in front of the Board of Adjustment and another staff review.”

Mack explained that when zoning text amendments were made three years ago, previous Planning Director Mark Mussman inadvertently removed the marina standards that had been established in 2000.

During public comments, Elsa Putzier of Bigfork urged the commissioners not to proceed with the zoning amendment. She said Bigfork Bay already has a marina, and voiced concern the amendment could open the door to further marina development that could pose a safety hazard.

“It’s a scenic small bay,” Putzier said. “It’s too small to have additional boat traffic.”

Lee Ranstrom of Bigfork also pointed to the potential for over-development by adding marina as a conditional use.

“There’s only one place where I can see where a marina can go, where the current business is that takes people to Wild Horse Island,” Ranstrom said. “...if you double the number of slips, that’s unacceptable to me.”

Bill Myers of Bayside Park and Marine Center, which operates Pointer Scenic Cruises in Bigfork Bay, told the commissioners he was involved in the process in 1999 to 2000 in getting the adoption of a marina definition and process for development expansion that was approved by the commissioners in January 2000.

Myers said when he was recently listing his property on the bay, he and his Realtors noticed an inconsistency in the standards, and after Planning Director Mussman became aware of the error, he issued a letter acknowledging the oversight and stating that after reviewing the current B-3 zoning regulations, “it is apparent an existing marina can be expanded as a conditional use, as a commercial recreation area.”

Mussman noted in the letter the Board of Adjustment would be able to attach standards to mitigate any negative impacts, should an application for marina expansion be submitted. Any expansion also would need a number of permits, ranging from a county floodplain permit, to permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Flathead Conservation District.

IN AUGUST 2020 the commissioners adopted a resolution that removed the marina planned-unit development option from county zoning regulations, according to the Planning Office staff report. Staff recommended the removal primarily because the county’s lake and lakeshore protection regulations have specific marina standards that weren’t referenced in the marina PUD section of the regulations, the report noted.

However, the text amendment adopted in 2000 had added the marina PUD language to the regulations specifically to address marina development potential on certain commercial zoned property with frontage in Bigfork Bay, which is not regulated by the county’s lakeshore regulations.

“This apparent oversight and lack of institutional knowledge regarding this 2000 text amendment resulted in uncertainty whether a marina could be developed on B-3 (community business) zoned property,” the staff report said.

The proposed zone text amendment would eliminate “potentially questionable interpretations” of the zoning regulations regarding the development of marinas, the report continued.

The B-3 zoning is used primarily along major highways in the county, but there is property zoned B-3 in the Bigfork area, with some property in Bigfork Bay.

“The ability to obtain a conditional-use permit for a marina on the B-3 zoned property appears to be quite suitable for this area,” the staff report noted. “A marina development in Bigfork Bay could capitalize on the numerous amenities Bigfork has to offer. Moreover, because the request is to require a conditional-use permit for a marina in the B-3 zone, any impacts to the surrounding area can be mitigated with conditions of approval.”

News editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 406-758-4421 or