County Commission Approves Subdivision Regulation Changes

By Beacon Staff

Flathead County commissioners voted to adopt changes to the county’s subdivision regulations, ending a two-year revision process by a specially appointed committee.

County Commissioners Joe Brenneman and Jim Dupont voted to accept the changes on Dec. 16. Commissioner Dale Lauman was absent.

Brenneman said he thought the changes are an improvement on the original document. Dupont noted that there are some “obvious things that need fixing,” but those issues could be dealt with in the future.

“I think it’s a living document,” Dupont said.

The revisions came from a commission-appointed committee, which was instructed to go through the document and check for usability and functionality within the regulations. Work on the regulations began when the county adopted its growth policy in 2007.

At the Dec. 16 public hearing, Jeff Larsen, representing the Montana Environmental Consultants Association, said there were parts of the regulations that still needed tweaking, but overall they addressed many of the problems in the original document.

“Our organization will support you approving these regulations,” Larsen said.

Larsen said he had reservations about fire-safety standards and the offsite improvement formula, but neither were enough to deny passing the entire document. Improvements can be made in the future, he said.

However, several members of the public disagreed with the committee’s decision to remove a provision in the regulations that permitted only five-acre lots in areas where the groundwater is within eight feet of the surface.

Robin Steinkraus, executive director of the Flathead Lakers, and Mayre Flowers of Citizens for a Better Flathead also spoke out against removing the provision.

In her letter to the commission, Steinkraus noted that dense subdivisions on the Evergreen aquifer could cause pollution to flow into the Flathead River and, consequently, Flathead Lake.

Brenneman said he believed the aquifer is vulnerable, but state law would not allow the provision in the subdivision regulations. Possible protection could come from zoning, he said, but ultimately it will be up to Flathead residents to decide what will happen with the aquifer.

In her comments, Flowers requested that the commission delay voting on the regulation changes and instead appoint another subcommittee to review the latest revisions.

The original committee was made of developers, she said, and the points of view from water science, agriculture and wildlife communities were not represented.

“I think what is really missing is another perspective,” Flowers said.

She also said CBF does not support changes to the environmental assessment process.

Some of the recent changes include expanding and detailing the subdivision application and review process, including the section on time period for subdivision approval, conditional approval or denial.

Flathead County Planning Director BJ Grieve asked the commission to consider delaying the new document’s effective date because of new fees and other changes that might affect projects already in the works.

The commission complied, making the changes effective on April 1, 2011.

Copies of the subdivision regulations can be viewed on the Flathead County Planning and Zoning website at www.flathead.mt.gov/planning_zoning/Drafts.php.

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