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BLUAC recommends one zone change and denies other at board meeting

by TAYLOR INMAN
Bigfork Eagle | January 5, 2022 12:00 AM

The Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee met last week to discuss two applications for zone changes. BLUAC works in an advisory capacity with Flathead County land use decision making boards and county commissioners to give the public a chance to hear about potential development and zoning changes in the Bigfork area. The board reviews applications and will either deny or recommend the application to the county based on how it fits into the Bigfork Neighborhood Plan— an official plan adopted by the county commissioners to outline growth and development.

At their meeting on December 30, the board heard two applications. The first one being a zone change request from Sands Surveying, Inc., on behalf of Montana LLC and Robert and Rita Boese. The proposal would change the zoning on property located at 1308 Highway 83 from SAG-10 (Suburban Agricultural) to SAG-5 (Suburban Agricultural). The total acreage involved in the request was approximately 38.5 acres. The parties present at the meeting representing the two property owners involved in the application told the board the zone change would allow them to open up a “farm-to-table” meat stand to sell beef that was raised on the property. SAG-5 includes the ability to open a “produce stand,” which is defined in Flathead County Zoning Regulations as a “detached accessory structure used to sell raw, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, flowers or ornamental plants.”

Donna Vlad who was representing Montana LLC and the Boeses told the board one of the applicants consulted with former Flathead County Planning and Zoning Director Mark Mussman who told him their meat stand would fall under the definition of produce stand, because it is a product coming from the agricultural use of the property. Though the current definition on the books contradicts this, the board noted that current Flathead County Planning and Zoning Director Erik Mack could include it, as the director gets to decide the interpretation of the definition. A change in definition would still require a full amendment process with the county commissioners. Board member Lou McGuire made a motion to recommend the endorsement of the application, it was seconded by Vice-Chair Jerry Sorensen and the board unanimously approved the zone change— with a note to the applicants that the change might not allow the meat stand they wanted to put on the property.

The second application put before the board was a zone change request from Alex Olson on behalf of Tim and Sherrie Calaway. The proposal would change the zoning on property located off Highway 83 from SAG-5 (Suburban Agricultural) to I-1 (Light Industrial). The total acreage involved in the request is approximately 20.02 acres. Alex Olson was present at the meeting and told the board the zone change would allow him to expand his storage unit business and that he plans to put new units on the front half of the property. The back half of the property is still owned by the Calaways and Olson said he is looking to potentially buy the back half of the property in the future, but does not have any plans for it yet. He also said he plans to dig a well and septic system for his office building that is currently already on the property.

“I have no future solid plans for the rest of the property, I would like to do something with it one day that would benefit and meet the demands of the community, but nothing is in place at the moment,” Olson told the board.

Sorenson expressed concern about the high amount of traffic that goes by the property, and how much a storage unit facility would contribute to backing up that traffic further. Olson told the board he is open to working with the Montana Department of Transportation to alleviate traffic by putting a turn lane into the property. Other concerns from board members included the lack of water and sewer on the property for the amount of businesses allowed under the definition of I-1 (Light industrial). Other businesses allowed under the zoning change include churches, day care centers, bus stations, grocery stores and light manufacturing facilities, among many others. The parcel of land borders other light industrial zones as well as residential zones.

During public comment period for the application, residential neighbors Paul Henion and Ryan Nelson spoke against the zone change. Henion said the value of his property would be impacted by the zoning change in a negative way. He said he believes there are too many “what if’s” associated with the zoning change, including what could happen if the entire 20 acres was completely developed.

“While the extension of storage units seems minor, that is only one person’s proposed use, there’s a wide variety of detrimental uses to the surrounding property owners that any current or future owner could develop in such a large industrial zone,” Henion said.

Nelson also said the zoning change would bring down his property value, and noted that he attempted to buy the property last year to turn it into new baseball fields for Bigfork Schools baseball teams, but the deal fell through. He cited many of the same reasons as Henion for his disapproval, also noting that he had a previous conversation with Olson where he told him that he planned to develop a hotel on the property. Olson denied saying that to Nelson.

After the board heard a rebuttal from the applicants and went over the facts and findings, Sorenson made a motion to deny the endorsement of the application based on the lack of infrastructure (water and sewer system) needed for the wide range of businesses allowed under I-1. Three board members voted in favor of the denial, two voted against it, and Board Member-at-large Richard Michaud abstained from the vote.

BLUAC also has two elected positions open and listed on the Flathead County Planning and Zoning website. Application for filing can be found on the Election Department website and must filed by May 3, 2022. The openings for the two appointed positions to BLUAC are member-at-large and recording secretary.

To qualify for a seat on BLUAC you must reside in the Bigfork Zoning District for the past two years and be a registered voter in Flathead County.

Anyone interested in submitting a public comment for upcoming agenda items email planning.zoning@flathead.mt.gov