Lakeshore Regulations in Doughnut Move Forward

Whitefish, Lost Coon lakes likely to be added to the county's regulations

By Molly Priddy

The logistical aftermath of the state Supreme Court decision granting Flathead County planning jurisdiction of the area around Whitefish continues, as the county commission gives direction to the planning board regarding lakeshore regulations and the possibility of zoning.

At a Jan. 13 hearing, the Flathead County Commission largely agreed with the Flathead County Planning Board’s recommendation for the future of lakeshore regulations for Whitefish and Lost Coon lakes, which are now under the county’s jurisdiction.

The planning board’s recommendation comes after multiple workshops with public comment about how to integrate the lakes and their regulations to the county’s system.

On Dec. 17, the planning board chose Option 2 of a six-option matrix; the board recommends that Flathead County amend the Flathead County Lake and Lakeshore Protection Regulations to include Whitefish and Lost Coon lakes on the list over which the regulations have jurisdiction.

This effectively eliminates the county’s separate Whitefish Area Lake and Lakeshore Protection Regulations for rural property on the lakes.

The recommendation also included plans for a wholesale review and revision of the county’s lake and lakeshore regulations, as the board’s annual work plan allows.

Revising the county’s lakeshore and lake regulations will allow the county to take advantage of some of the rules created for Whitefish Lake, county planning director BJ Grieve said, because those rules have been recently updated.

“(The update) can take the best of both worlds,” Grieve said during the Jan. 13 meeting.

Grieve explained that the commission didn’t need to make a decision on the matter during Tuesday’s hearing, and instead just offer up thoughts and direction for the planning board to take into consideration for its Jan. 14 meeting.

“It’s a little bit of a Ping-Pong thing here,” Grieve said.

The commission ended up voting 3-0 in favor of allowing the planning board to move forward with the text amendment adding the two lakes to the county’s regulations, and eventually work on the lakeshore regulations as a whole.

The commissioners said they favored a majority of the planning board’s recommendation, but Commissioner Phil Mitchell said he had hoped for a more cemented timeline for the lakeshore regulation revisions.

Grieve said it would be possible for his department to undertake a wholesale revision of the regulations within the next fiscal year, but it might call for more staffing and other resources to complete such a large project while also performing the other departmental tasks.

Mitchell said he had wanted this process to be efficient for the residents of the doughnut who have had to wait for years as the legal wrangling around this issue flared.

Commissioners Gary Krueger and Pam Holmquist said they agreed with the board’s recommendations and that putting a hard timeline on the large-scale revision might end up hurting the whole endeavor.

“I don’t want to hold a committee to a timeframe that may or may not work,” Holmquist said.

Krueger said adding the two lakes to the county’s lakeshore regulations and then looking at the regulations as a whole will bring about uniform permitting and enforcement across the county, while not forcing the planning department to overload.

“The best thing we can do is have our best people working on it,” he said.

The commission also discussed the future of long-range zoning around Whitefish. The county enacted interim zoning in that area in September 2014, which was slated to last one year, plus the possibility of a year extension.

Grieve said the planning office notified 4,450 landowners of impending zoning discussions, asking for comment, and hosted four workshops on the matter. From there, the planning board came up with the recommendation to repeal the 1996 Whitefish City-County Master Plan and possibly amend the county’s growth policy to add a future land-use map, based on the 2007 map as the starting point.

All three commissioners expressed concern about using the 2007 map, and agreed that the recommendation should be sent back to the planning board for more discussion, along with the commissioners’ comments on the recommendations, and ask for a revised recommendation.

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