Flathead County Commission Rescinds Lake Five Development Permit

After legal battle, application for new guest cabins revoked due to access easement

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

The Flathead County Commission unanimously rescinded a major land-use permit allowing for the construction of guest cabins near Lake Five in West Glacier.

The Sept. 30 rescission came a month after a Flathead County judge granted a preliminary injunction to temporarily halt any work at the controversial resort. A nonprofit group called “The Friends of Lake Five” sued the Flathead County Commission after it granted the permit earlier this year.

The rescinded permit was for the 23.1-acre Whistle Stop Retreat, owned by Susan Dietz of Anchorage, Alaska. In October 2019, Dietz applied to build a total of 10 guest cabins and additional new buildings across two tracts of land. The proposed additions include a barn with living quarters, a pavilion, several guest rental cabins, an entertainment structure, two RV spaces and other auxiliary structures.

A draft letter for the permit to be revoked was sent to the county, based on a finding by Flathead County District Judge Amy Eddy regarding access to the property via Grizzly Spur Road.

Grizzly Spur Road is a single-lane gravel road with a 20-foot easement, but the terms state that the easement is granted “for access solely for residential purposes … and may be used only by the members of one family per tract.” The court determined that rental or residential use by non-family members is expressly prohibited.

The commissioners noted that Dietz may reapply for a permit if she obtains different easement access to the property.

The commissioners originally granted the permit during their Feb. 26 meeting. “The Friends of Lake Five” filed a lawsuit against the county commission shortly after the permit was issued. An initial request for an injunction was denied by the district court earlier this summer.

Judge Eddy granted the preliminary injunction on Aug. 10 in a nine-page findings of fact, conclusion of law, and order.

Eddy’s findings of fact pointed out several issues with the permit application, including a rejection of the sewer and water plan by the Flathead City-County Health Department and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

In addition, Eddy noted that several buildings had been previously constructed despite a “no facility” restriction on the property, and existing structures were renovated without approval.

Currently, there is a single-family home, three guest cabins and a number of other buildings on the property, including a replica train caboose and fire watchtower, with several buildings that have been previously listed on Airbnb.

Lawsuits surrounding the Lake Five development have been ongoing since late 2019, when Dietz accused a number of neighbors of trespassing on the property and being a nuisance, and sought to terminate the easement through her property. The neighbors filed a countersuit against Dietz requesting the suit be dismissed.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.