County Sued Over Lake Five Guest Cabin Approval

Commission granted major land-use permit approval despite objection from neighbors

By Justin Franz
Lake Five in West Glacier on May 29, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A group calling itself “The Friends of Lake Five” is suing the Flathead County Commission after the board granted a major land-use permit to a controversial guest cabin development in West Glacier.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Flathead County District Court in late March, alleges that by issuing the permit the commission violated the Montana Administrative Procedure Act, the Montana Subdivision and Platting Act, the Montana Lakeshore Protection Act and the Montana Constitution. The county acknowledged service of the lawsuit in May.

Friends of Lake Five is a nonprofit group that, according to its lawsuit, is made up of people concerned about the environmental and aesthetic qualities of the lake.

Among the structures already on the 23.1-acre property in dispute, called Whistle Stop Retreat, are a single-family home, three guest cabins and other buildings, including a replica train caboose and fire tower. 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 auxiliary buildings.

Neighbors have raised concerns that Dietz had already built some cabins and docks without proper permits. Others have said that many guest cabins is not an appropriate use of the property under rules outlined by the Canyon Area Land Use Regulatory System. Prior to the county commission approving the permit, the Middle Canyon Land Use Advisory Committee had voted against it.

The lawsuit states that the county did not consider the impact that the development would have on wildlife or water quality in the area. The suit also states that the commission violated the public’s constitutional right to be involved in such regulatory decisions. According to the suit, the developer submitted modifications to the permit application during the county commission meeting at which commissioners voted on the proposal, thus bypassing the opportunity for the public to review and comment on the revised application.

“The county’s grant of approval for the permit was arbitrary and capricious because the county violated the constitutional right of the public to reasonable opportunity for participation prior to the issuance of the final permit decision,” the suit states.

This is not the only lawsuit spurred by the Lake Five development. In a lawsuit filed in Flathead County District Court on Nov. 11, 2019, Dietz, the owner, 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 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.

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