Flathead County Commission and Planning Department Broken

In our opinion that department needs to go beyond favoring the applicants

By Cliff and Cheryl Palmer

We were recent participants at the Board of Adjustment meeting opposing our neighbor’s application for a camps and retreats permit. They were granted the permit and it was a very frustrating experience for us as we felt the director and board were dismissive and Indifferent to our comments and others in opposition. I would like to share a few additional thoughts and observations.

  1. The Planning Department’s mindset is to favor the applicants and is looking for reasons to grant the permit and manipulate the criteria to make that happen. They fail to really look into the context and setting of the property and how that fits into the neighborhood. This is why they have reached some dubious decisions in granting permits and have had their decisions appealed. For example, the water bottling permit in Creston; the tower in West Glacier; the bridge to nowhere in Bigfork; just to name a few.
  2. They grant the permits despite overwhelming neighborhood opposition. All of the above examples have had unanimous opposition about the negative and detrimental effects the granting of the permits would bring into the neighborhood. The Board favors the rights of the applicants over the rights of the neighbors. This led a judge in his ruling about the Creston bottling plant to write that the Flathead County commissioners were wrong in failing to address “the property rights of the other affected landowners in the proposed expansion area or the county overall. It is an abuse of discretion to consider the property rights of one landowner to the exclusion of other landowners in the county overall.”
  3. The board ignores the rulings of the local planning and zoning boards. In our case the Bigfork planning board turned down the proposed applicants 6-0, and yet the Board of Adjustments did not comment on this ruling and upon appeal made a one-sentence statement that, yes, the applicants met the standard of the local planning. What a waste of time to even go through that process and an affront to the local planning boards if they don’t reference their decisions and zoning policies.

It all starts with the planning director. In our opinion that department needs to go beyond favoring the applicants and only considering if the application meets some of the criteria, but to give at least equal weight to the neighborhood and the views of those opposing it and the devaluation of property values if they approve it. They give “pseudo” and surface attention to those opposing but mostly cozy up to the applicants and look for ways to make sure the request will happen. Just because an application meets some/most criteria doesn’t mean it should be allowed.

The commissioners need to give careful attention to the local planning board recommendations and weight their input rather than dismissing it.

They also need to allow discussion and comments from those opposing the applications when they have stated what their ruling is going to be. In some tough decisions it would be much better to recommend mediation instead of forcing the opposition to appeal and engage in costly lawyer fees.

Cliff and Cheryl Palmer