Near the end of an Evergreen community meeting Saturday aimed at gauging public support for a proposed land use advisory committee there, a man walked to the front of the room and held up a sign that read, “FOR.”
“I’ll make this real simple,” he said to the crowd of about 60 people. “Is there anyone here for this thing?”
No one raised their hand. The man ripped up the sign and took his seat.
It was a fitting conclusion to an almost two-hour long meeting where residents emphatically voiced their opposition to the possible committee and planning efforts in general.
Earlier this month, Alan Gilbertson, an Evergreen resident, approached the commission with a tentative plan to form a land use advisory committee in Evergreen. Eventually, he said, the advisory committee could be used to develop a neighborhood plan for the area.
Gilbertson also presented a tentative boundary for the committee, which he said he had penciled after consulting with representatives from the Evergreen Fire Department, Evergreen Sewer and Water District and Glacier Park International Airport.
Commissioners Dale Lauman and Joe Brenneman expressed support for the idea, and agreed to draw up an official proposal in order to begin the process to form a committee and its boundaries. Commissioner Jim Dupont wasn’t at the meeting.
“It’d create better communication between that area and our county agencies,” Lauman said, noting that he’d worked on two like committees in the past.
Evergreen – the most populated unincorporated area in the state – is under the county’s jurisdiction. Other communities throughout the county, such as Bigfork, Lakeside, Riverdale and Helena Flats, have used land use advisory committees as a way to provide input to the commissioners and to work on neighborhood plans.
The meeting prompted backlash from residents throughout the valley, including letters to the editor, online comments on local media Web sites and a mass mailing to Evergreen residents from American Dream Montana. Gilbertson called Saturday’s community meeting at Evergreen Junior High School to air the issue. County officials were not present.
Gilbertson told the crowd that he felt his intentions had been misrepresented by local media, noting that he did not want people to think he was trying to ramrod the proposal through. “This has to be done with community support,” he said. “All I was looking to do is to form a voice for Evergreen.
Gilbertson said a group of Evergreen residents first approached the county a few years ago with interest in creating a neighborhood plan. At that time, however, the county was working on updating its growth policy and encouraged the group to wait until its completion, he said.
Since then, he said he had met with the planning office over concerns for the Evergreen bike path and about the possibility of forming the committee.
Several in attendance, however, blasted Gilbertson and the county for acting without public support, arguing that Gilbertson doesn’t speak for Evergreen and that the county government – Brenneman and County Planning Director Jeff Harris, in particular – have an agenda to control land use.
George Culpepper, Jr., an Evergreen resident and member of the Flathead County Planning Board, said that by meeting with Gilbertson, the county and planning office had failed to take the proper steps to begin the process. “Community meetings are supposed to happen first, and yet they do it the other way,” he said.
Culpepper suggested people come to this week’s planning board meeting where the board will work on the Bigfork neighborhood plan in order to get an idea about how such plans work. He read several excerpts from the draft of that plan, including suggestions for preservation of scenic views, public space and lighting and signage, noting that similar guidelines could be instituted with a plan in Evergreen.
“As a resident of this community, I urge that this thing gets rejected and rejected fast,” Culpepper said of the Evergreen efforts.
Other opponents said a land use committee would only add another layer of government and regulations, that the community already had sufficient representation and accused county officials of acting illegally. They concluded the meeting by passing around petitions expressing their opposition to send on to the county.
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