Commission Begins Work on Subdivision Regulations

By Beacon Staff

Flathead County Commissioners made it halfway through proposed subdivision regulations Monday, before tabling the remaining rules for next week and setting aside a special date to tackle the controversial streamside setback regulations.

All three commissioners said they needed more time to read through and follow up on the public comment they had received regarding the streamside setbacks in recent weeks. Two public hearings late last month drew about 80 people each, most commenting on the setbacks.

“I’m not prepared at all to get into this portion of the regulations today,” Commissioner Gary Hall said. “There’s still a lot of information to digest.”

The commission hopes to finish all but the setback regulations on Nov. 19 at 10:15 a.m. Then, a two-hour slot has been set aside on Dec. 1 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. to tackle the streamside setback segment. The section on roads and road dust will also be sent to the county’s Roads Advisory Committee for comment.

Subdivision regulations came to the forefront early last year because state law required them to be in compliance with the county’s new growth policy. Revised regulations were approved last summer, but amid widespread controversy, the county withheld about 15 of the most contentious regulations for further review and discussion.

The county subdivision regulations lay out what steps developers must take to get a new project approved. They apply only to those choosing to subdivide land.

On Monday, the commission started at the beginning of the proposed regulations, moving section through section. For the most part, they closely followed the recommendations from the planning and zoning office and planning board.

The area that drew the most disagreement among the commission was a provision that read: “In areas where seasonally high groundwater is within eight feet of the surface lots shall be a minimum average size of five acres in the area of high groundwater, if not connecting to municipal, community or public sewer system or unless scientific evidence demonstrates that a different density is appropriate.”

Hall and Commissioner Dale Lauman moved to change the lot size requirement to an average of one to five acres, a move Commissioner Joe Brenneman said flew in the face of the county’s growth policy.

“The growth policy says five acres,” Brenneman said. “We made the decision then that it needed to be five acres; now, we’re going back and saying just kidding put septics on one-acre lots.”

The commissioners also decided that multi-phased subdivision proposals should have three years – instead of the current two years – to develop after preliminary plat approval; that constructing a building on a piece of to-be-subdivided land prior to approval of a preliminary plat could be grounds for rejecting that project; and that requiring subdivisions in the wildland-urban interface to have two roadways, or an emergency escape plan, was appropriate.