Flathead County

West Valley Land Use Committee Seeks Feedback

Public input will be used to review neighborhood plan

By Micah Drew
Farm to Market Road northwest of Kalispell. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The West Valley Land Use Advisory Committee (WVLUAC) is seeking public input from residents of the West Valley Zoning District to determine whether the comprehensive neighborhood plan still fits residents’ vision for the area.

The West Valley neighborhood plan was adopted in 1997 and presents a framework for land use in West Valley. The stated goal of the plan is to “maintain the rural and scenic quality of West Valley,” plan for wise land use, protect air and water quality and protect private property rights.

Erica Wirtala, a new WVLUAC member, is helping to push out the word about the neighborhood plan update, including sending out surveys to all residents in West Valley.

“We want to know if people are happy with the current plan, happy with the direction of growth in the area or not,” she said. “It’s important if you want to shape the direction of where you want your community to go.”

Comprehensive plans, such as the one for West Valley, are non-binding, non-regulatory documents that outline the general characteristics of a zoning area and offer a guide for future growth and development. Flathead County Planning Director Mark Mussman says real changes come from updating zoning regulations.

“Other than there are a few more people that live there, the nature of West Valley is that the neighborhood plan is still applicable,” Mussman said. “It’s the regulations that have lagged behind the times…. [they] are regulatory and tell individual property owners what they can and cannot do.”

Mussman said that while the process of updating a neighborhood plan can involve a lot of public interest and input, he believes there is some misguided thinking that such input will affect regulations.

“Typically there is a significant loss of interest after a neighborhood plan is adopted and when the regulations then actually get addressed,” he said.

Oftentimes, land-use committees see surges of interest when there are controversial developments that spur locals to get more involved in the process, according to Mussman. He cited the Middle Canyon committee as an example for expanding from zero to five members in response to several developments in the area, and has since proposed several text amendments to local zoning regulations.

 “There are some issues in the comprehensive growth policy plans that could be addressed, and probably should be addressed,” Mussman said. “The regulations should be looked at on a regular basis.”

Mussman said the Flathead County growth policy will need to be updated soon, a process that will start once final U.S. Census data is received for the area.

The West Valley resident survey can be completed online by visiting flathead.mt.gov/planning_zoning.

In addition, community members in West Glacier have released a draft of the West Glacier Vision plan, which recommends a multitude of policies for the West Glacier area and could be adopted as a neighborhood plan. The draft is available for review on the county’s planning and zoning website.