Commissioners Approve Changes to Zoning Regulations

By Beacon Staff

Flathead County commissioners voted in nine changes to county zoning regulations this week, a move that will clarify zoning processes for the planning office and residents, officials said.

The amendments, written by the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Office and reviewed by the Flathead County Planning Board, initially sought to clarify zoning classifications, define police and fire stations in public zoning, clarify setback definitions, update general cross references and define taverns.

There were 11 total amendments up for approval, but two were rejected. One removed amendment, which would have allowed the Board of Adjustment to revoke conditional use permits under certain circumstances, was too unclear for a vote, the commissioners said. The county planning board came to the same conclusion during its Sept. 9 meeting.

Deputy County Attorney Jonathan Smith asked the commissioners at the Nov. 19 hearing to keep the revocation amendment in, saying it is difficult to go to court and ask for a permit to be revoked when there is not a rule specifying the county’s right to do so.

“There’s got to be the authority for the board to revoke what they’ve given if shown proper evidence that (conditions were) violated,” Smith said.

Commissioners Joe Brenneman and Jim Dupont voiced agreement with Smith’s argument, but also said they were wary of approving the amendment without specific language detailing the revocation process, which would include a hearing with the Board of Adjustment and potential appeals.

Brenneman said the commission would reconsider the amendment after clarifying language is added.

The commissioners also voted to remove an amendment that would require the county to attempt to get voluntary compliance for at least 30 days before filing a criminal complaint for a zoning regulation violation. Smith said the county attorney’s office would take care of criminal charges and the planning office does not need to enforce this section of Montana law.

The other approved amendments included adding police and fire stations to a list of uses for land in a public zone. Another amendment sought to provide easier interpretation of a side-corner property setback, which planners said has been confusing people “since the beginning of time.” The new definition says that buildings on a corner lot, meaning on a lot where two streets intersect, have different setbacks for the front of the lot and the side of the lot.

The commissioners also approved the new definition of a tavern for zoning purposes, which also states that casinos should be considered taverns because they serve much of the same purpose. The planning office said the amendment would ensure proper locations for casinos and would take the character of the area in consideration.

Several other amendments made Flathead County compliant with a new law created during the 2009 legislative session. It requires planning documents up for public scrutiny for 45 days before a public hearing and that those documents have to be available in five different public places. Those places include public buildings, rights of way and in the newspapers.