Flathead County

County Commission Tables Echo Lake Zoning Request

After lengthy public comment period at last week's commission meeting, issue to be revisited on March 11

By Micah Drew
The western shores of Echo Lake on March 3, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Flathead County Commission at its March 2 meeting tabled a rezoning request for a property along Echo Lake after more than two dozen members of the public appeared to offer public comment, pushing the meeting an hour behind schedule.

The zoning request was made by the Day Family Trust to rezone approximately 62 acres along the west shore of Echo Lake northeast of Bigfork from agricultural to suburban agriculture.

Applicant Rowland Day told the board and concerned residents that his plan was to subdivide the property among his five children.

Opposition to the rezoning request was prevalent not only in the commissioners’ chamber but at a February planning board meeting and January Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee meeting.

The majority of public comment at all three meetings was over the water quality of Echo Lake, and concern that additional density along the lakefront would further diminish the water and depredate the shoreline.

“I’ll reiterate: I do not want density on the lake … I don’t even know how I feel about having all my kids living that close,” Day said tongue in cheek. “My property and the other properties are not the issue — it’s the public boat launch. That boat launch is backed up.”

Several members of the planning board agreed with his comments at their February meeting.

 “I just think everybody here is in a tough spot and I agree with the fact that a lot of the issues they’re facing with the water, that’s because it’s public access,” planning board member Sandra Nogal said. “I don’t think that’s Mr. Day’s issue.”

Ultimately, the planning board voted 5-2 to recommend that the Flathead County Commission approve the zone change to suburban agriculture, but with a minimum lot size of 10 acres, rather than the 5-acre minimum Day requested.

The majority of the eastern side of Echo Lake is zoned with a 5-acre minimum.

At the commission meeting on March 2, all public comment, other than from the applicant and his engineers, spoke against the proposed zone change.

“The folks you’ve heard from today are not acting out of a blind opposition to progress or individual property rights or development per se,” said Echo Lake resident Charlotte Streit. “We are opposing the further deterioration of a lake that has no outlet, that has been overdeveloped in the past and continues to decline in quality as a result. We are advocating for the future of Echo Lake, not only for us as residents, but also as an asset for the people of the wider community who take year-round advantage of the public access to the lake.”

After the public comment period ended, the commissioners noted that many of the issues brought up would be looked at if a development came forward, an additional step beyond the rezoning. 

Due to the prolonged nature of the agenda item, which lasted a full hour longer than was budgeted, and the amount of submitted written comment the board needed to review, Commissioner Pam Holmquist moved to table the item and revisit it at a later date.

“It is really important that we process this really well not only for the property owner but for each of the occupants out in that area,” Commissioner Randy Brodehl said.

The commissioners will take up the item at their March 11 meeting at 11 a.m., but would like it to be noted that public comment for this agenda item has ended.

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