Flathead County Commission Approves Lake Five Development

Application for new guest cabins was approved with conditions on Feb. 26 despite protest from other residents and the Middle Canyon Land Use Advisory Committee

By Justin Franz

The Flathead County Commission unanimously approved a major land-use permit allowing for the construction of a number of guest cabins near Lake Five in West Glacier.

The permit will allow the Whistle Stop Retreat to build cabins along the shore of Lake Five and the BNSF Railway tracks. The decision was made despite protest from other residents and the Middle Canyon Land Use Advisory Committee, which late last year raised concerns over the proximity of the proposed guest cabins to the water’s edge. While the advisory committee rejected the proposal, the Flathead County Planning Board voted 4-2 on Jan. 8 to send the permitting request to the commission.

Currently, there are a single-family home, three guest cabins and a number of other buildings (including a replica train caboose and fire tower) on the 23.1-acre piece of property called the Whistle Stop Retreat. Some of the homes are already listed on Airbnb. The owner, Susan Dietz, wants to build a total of 10 new guest cabins that could be rented out, as well as some auxiliary buildings.

Neighbors have raised concerns that Dietz had already built some cabins and docks without proper permits. Others have said that number of guest cabins is not an appropriate use of the property under rules outlined by the Canyon Area Land Use Regulatory System. During the Feb. 26 meeting, Dietz said she is currently seeking permits for the docks and pre-existing buildings.

County Commissioner Phil Mitchell said he was sympathetic to the neighbors’ concerns.

“You have pushed the envelope when it comes to permits and that’s probably why you have upset your neighbors,” he said.

Dietz is currently involved in an ongoing lawsuit and countersuit with surrounding property owners. In a lawsuit filed in Flathead County District Court on Nov. 11, 2019, Dietz accuses a number of neighbors of trespassing and being a nuisance, stating that “(the defendants) have stopped on the easement roadway, uttered threatening and offensive language, and made obscene gestures to Plaintiff’s employees, agents and contractors.” The suit seeks to extinguish the easement through Dietz’s property. The suit also alleges that the neighbors destroyed speed bumps that had been installed on the road.

The neighbors have filed a countersuit against Dietz requesting that her suit be dismissed and that the road easement remain unchanged. The neighbors are also seeking damages for emotional distress.

The commission granted the land-use permit with a number of conditions, including that Dietz install signage on the access road noting that it is a single-lane route with minimal turnouts.

At the end of the hearing, Commissioner Randy Brodehl encouraged all parties involved to try to work out their differences.

“Do everything you can to repair relationships and communicate with your neighbors,” Brodehl said.

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