Flathead County

County Approves Contentious Echo Lake Rezoning Request

After three meetings filled with public comment, county commissioners approve change to 62-acre property along lake

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

The Flathead County Commission at its March 11 meeting voted unanimously to approve a contentious zone change for an Echo Lake property northeast of Bigfork.

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

The request by applicant Rowland Day met resistance from Echo Lake residents at public hearings held at a January Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee meeting, a February planning board meeting and last week’s county commission meeting. Residents provided hours of public comment at each meeting, including more than an hour of public comment last week that forced the commissioners to table the agenda item in order to keep on schedule.

The majority of public comment raised concerns about the degrading water quality of Echo Lake and worried that if density is increased on the lakefront it would further diminish the water and erode 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 at the February planning board meeting. “My property and the other properties are not the issue — it’s the public boat launch. That boat launch is backed up.”

At Thursday’s commissioners meeting, Commissioner Brad Abell agreed with Day.

“I do believe, you know, the erosion concerns on the lake have more to do with the public access and the boat access there than are relevant if Mr. Day’s development does go through,” Abell said, suggesting the problems with the lake could be addressed in other ways, such as limiting horsepower on the lake.

Commissioner Pam Holmquist concurred and added that for the property to be developed the applicant would have to go through a subdivision hearing as well.

“Many of your comments talked about access, water quality, safety, wildlife mitigation, things of that nature,” Holmquist said to the dozen residents at the meeting. “Much of that will be addressed whenever a development comes forward … it’s never addressed during the zoning process.”

While the majority of the eastern side of Echo Lake is zoned with a 5-acre minimum (SAG-5), which was what Day requested, the commissioners voted in line with the planning board recommendation to rezone the property with a 10-acre minimum (SAG-10).

“I know that’s not exactly what the developer wanted but I think his intent is five lots,” Homquist said. “And I believe that he can get those five lots with the SAG-10.”

“Some of these land use decisions are quite tough to make, but it’s my job to make sure that that whoever the developer is, they follow our criteria, policies, procedures, all that, and address any comments,” she continued. “And I’d encourage you to stay involved in that process.”

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