Thursday, November 30, 2023

Community members take up zoning effort in Lakeside

Bigfork Eagle | May 11, 2023 10:30 AM

Galvanized by a controversial development that is nearing completion despite deep community opposition — owing in part to a lack of regulations — Lakeside residents are attempting to zone a portion of the unincorporated town and surrounding residential areas.

In conjunction with the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Department, residents involved with the Upper West Shore Alliance have recently held two informational meetings about efforts to zone parts of the community.

Concerns about zoning took off during the course of last year, spurred on by the news of development of an alpine coaster just north of Lakeside on U.S. 93. The coaster property is unzoned, like the majority of Lakeside and its environs.

“Where unzoned may used to have implied freedom, in some ways now it also implies being unprotected,” Upper West Shore Alliance Director Janie Lewer told attendees at the first meeting, held April 26.

At that meeting, county planning and zoning employees recommended residents reference the Lakeside Neighborhood Plan, created in 2010, as a way to expedite the process to secure zoning, which can take around two years. The area they are specifically looking at zoning starts at Spring Creek road and goes south down to Bierney Creek Road, extending westward around Deer Creek Road.

Planners Zachary Moon and Larissa Van Riet presented a map of zoning in Lakeside, which showed that most of the shoreline is already zoned— the majority for R-1, suburban residential and R-2, one family limited residential.

The Scenic Corridor that runs along U.S. 93 and goes through Lakeside is another area that has some regulations, but isn’t technically zoned. Moon said rules for the corridor deal with off-site signage and cell towers — there are no land use restrictions.

Marty Sunde, who helped organize the meetings and was elected to the Lakeside Community Council this week, said the campaign to secure zoning is a result of neighbors deciding to take action.

“Several years ago some folks tried to build multi-level residences and the neighborhood got concerned about that surprise, so they all got together and got the yellow part along the shoreline zoned,” Sunde said. “Because they voiced concern, they studied the rules, they showed a lot of support together, it worked.”

He said they are already starting the process of gathering names and addresses of residents and getting their opinion about zoning and what designation they think their lot would fall under — like residential or commercial, for example. It’s necessary for the process of creating new zoning, which will be completed when the proposal eventually goes before Flathead County commissioners.

When meeting attendees asked why the process can take up to two years, Sunde said it takes a long time to accurately gather input from across the community.

“There has to be some work shown. It has to follow all of the legal processes and the legal processes aren't aren't designed to expedite processes, they're designed to check all the boxes,” Moon added.

If the process proves successful, residents who have lots that don’t follow the range of intended uses under their new zoning designation would be grandfathered in. In other words, if you have a lot that doesn’t fit the permitted uses you will not be penalized.

Sunde said the newly elected members of the Lakeside Community Council will take up zoning efforts when they begin meeting. The Council, dormant these past few years, acts only in an advisory capacity and works with the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Office to review applications affecting development in the Lakeside area.

The last members resigned unanimously in 2016 after disagreements between Flathead County commissioners about proposed changes to the group’s bylaws.

For more information about zoning in Lakeside contact the Flathead Planning and Zoning department at (406) 751-8200. Their website also contains zoning data and Flathead County zoning regulations among other pertinent resources.