County Wraps Up Work On Controversial Regulations

By Beacon Staff

After about two years of review and work, the Flathead County subdivision regulations are finally complete. But with lawsuits and a review committee in the works, it’s uncertain if they’ll stay the same for long.

On Monday, after several weeks of going through the document piece by piece, the county commission approved the remaining handful of regulations, bringing the entire document up-to-date. Rather than stop there, however, they also voted unanimously to create a commission-appointed committee to further review the regulations in the coming months.

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.

“The committee wouldn’t be looking at substantial changes, just functionality,” Commissioner Joe Brenneman said. The group, he added, could check for redundancies, make clarifications and adapt the regulations to address changes from the upcoming state legislative session, if needed.

Commissioners plan to appoint committee members in the next few weeks and hope to receive any changes from the group around May. The new regulations will go into affect Jan. 15, 2009.

Ongoing lawsuits could also change the regulations. The Montana Building and Industry Association, with support from local building and real estate groups, sued the county last month, describing the county’s subdivision regulations as “illegal” and “the most burdensome and costly in the state.” American Dream Montana, a local pro-property rights group, has also sued, but was waiting to serve the complaint.

Work on the subdivision regulations began last year in an effort to bring them into compliance with the county’s new growth policy. Most of the revisions were approved last summer, but the county withheld about 15 of the most contentious regulations for further review and discussion.

Streamside setbacks, the most contentious of the regulations, were decided last week when commissioners removed specific distances from the rules, instead opting to take a more generalized approach. “I think we found a case-by-case approach that balances with the goal of protecting water quality,” Brenneman said.

Copies of the new subdivision regulations are available at the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Office, or online at http://flathead.mt.gov/planning_zoning/.