County Enacts Interim Zoning in Doughnut

Future permanent zoning in the area will go through lengthy public process

By Molly Priddy

The Flathead County Commission unanimously approved interim zoning for the area around the city of Whitefish called the doughnut, saying there was an emergency need for regulation on land that had been previously zoned by the city.

During a Sept. 9 hearing, the county commissioners agreed with deputy county attorney Tara Fugina that an “emergency” did exist in terms of zoning.

“We did not expect the city of Whitefish to disallow the jurisdiction in the (doughnut) immediately after the Supreme Court ruling,” Fugina said.

In July, the Montana Supreme Court sided with Flathead County in a years-long legal battle over planning jurisdiction in the doughnut. The county now has planning and zoning authority over the land.

The Whitefish zones in place, however, do not translate to county regulations, county planning and zoning director BJ Grieve said. Pieces of Whitefish zoning rules, such as the dark skies ordinance or the critical areas ordinance, don’t have counterparts in county zoning.

Interim zones were selected to be the best equivalent zones to the existing rules, Grieve said, but they won’t be exactly the same.

Flathead County couldn’t administer or enforce the Whitefish zones anyway, he said, because the commission never adopted those specific regulations.

At the Sept. 9 hearing, all three commissioners agreed with the county attorney’s assessment, saying some rules need to be in place to be able to resolve any conflicts about land use – Fugina said there had already been a reported violation about a wedding venue in the doughnut that didn’t conform to previous zoning – and generally avoid chaos.

“Right now there’s no planning in place at all in that area that can be administered,” Commissioner Pam Holmquist said.

She said interim zoning is a temporary fix, and any permanent county zoning for that land will go through the whole planning process, with plenty of opportunity for public comment.

Commissioner Gary Krueger said getting interim zoning in place was important because there is still some gray area about legality and enforcing Whitefish’s zones, and he didn’t want the county to get caught up in more “legal wrangling.”

“I believe the emergency absolutely exists for that reason,” Krueger said.

Comissioner Cal Scott said interim zoning would provide a balance for the residents in the doughnut, and will give the county time to get a handle on the situation and vet future permanent zoning ideas.

“Without that, it would be chaotic to say the least,” he said.

For a map of the jurisdiction and the interim zoning, visit

http://flathead.mt.gov/planning_zoning/Drafts.php.

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