Now that Flathead County has taken over jurisdictional control of the planning area around Whitefish called the doughnut, it is time for the county to answer the question: What’s next?
That question and expectations of an impending answer have been pressed upon the Flathead County Planning Board, which met on Sept. 24 for a public workshop on the future of lakeshore regulation and jurisdiction in the Whitefish area.
The planning board was also scheduled to have another public workshop on the same topic on Oct. 1 at 6 p.m. at the Earl Bennett Building in Kalispell.
The Flathead County Planning and Zoning Department developed six options for the lake and lakeshore regulations:
- Amend the Flathead County Lake and Lakeshore Protection Regulations (LLPR) to include Whitefish and Lost Coon lakes
- Option 1, then revise and update the Flathead County LLPR in the next fiscal year
- Continue using Flathead County’s LLPR that were used prior to the interlocal agreement between the county and Whitefish
- Adopt the city’s Whitefish Area Lake and Lakeshore Protection Regulations, which the city used during the interlocal agreement
- Work with the public to create new Whitefish and Lost Coon lakeshore regulations agreeable to both governing bodies, which will adopt them separately
- Discuss with the city a mutual agreeable arrangement to give the city lakeshore jurisdiction for Whitefish and Lost Coon lakes.
About 24 people were present for the Sept. 24 meeting, and multiple people spoke about their preferences for the future of the regulations. Duncan Scott, who represented the county and doughnut residents throughout the legal wrangling between the county and the city, said he preferred Option 1, because the county already regulates more than 50 lakes.
Option 4 would put doughnut residents back under city rule, Scott said, which would likely rekindle “the bitterness of the doughnut fight.” Option 5 isn’t feasible, he said, because Whitefish has already proven it cannot work constructively with others.
Option 6 would also disenfranchise doughnut citizens once again, Scott said.
Russ Crowder, representing American Dream Montana, said he also agreed with Option 1, and that the county should try to listen to doughnut residents on this issue.
However, multiple people spoke in favor of keeping the Whitefish lakeshore protection regulations in place, because they were developed through the Whitefish Lakeshore Protection Committee, which is made up of lakeshore landowners.
Former state senator Bob Brown said he hoped the board would recommend to the Flathead County Commission Options 3 or 4, and not 1 or 2, because of the decades of work put into the Whitefish Lake-specific regulations.
“Most importantly to us was that the local people be involved,” Brown said of the protection committee.
Jim Stack, the current president of the Whitefish Lakeshore Protection Committee, said he hopes the board keeps the regulations in place because Whitefish Lake has circumstances unique to other lakes in the county.
For example, in two summer months the water level can drop 4.5 to 6 feet, he said, and this knowledge allows for appropriate building projects. If a landowner didn’t know this, their docks or decks could be destroyed.
“These regulations are here to protect the property owners,” Stack said. “Please don’t take us back 20 years.”
Whitefish Lake resident Lyle Phillips, who was part of the lawsuit, said he opposed having the city involved in the regulations at all, because he doesn’t want to lose representation.
Whitefish City Councilor Richard Hildner read a letter from Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld, who stated that the Whitefish City Council “fully supports re-establishing the lakeshore protection committee as a joint planning committee with Flathead County.”
Muhlfeld wrote that he is opposed to Options 1 and 2, due to the elimination of Whitefish Lake-specific regulations, and would prefer Option 4. Option 3 would also be acceptable, he wrote.
“I ask that we all set aside politics and do what is best for our City’s municipal water supply,” Muhlfeld wrote.
The county planning board will make a recommendation to the Flathead County Commission, which will make the final decision on this matter.
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