Flathead County

County Approves Creation of New Zoning District Near Glacier Park

The Parker Zoning District will allow an eight-acre parcel of land to be developed by long-time landowners without neighborhood plan restrictions

By Micah Drew
Flathead County Courthouse on Main Street in Kalispell pictured May 4, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Flathead County Commissioners at their July 12 meeting approved the creation of a new zoning district in West Glacier to allow an eight-acre property to be developed outside of limitations put in place by the Canyon Area Land Use Regulatory System (CALURS). The creation of the Parker Zoning District changed the property’s zoning from ‘Middle Canyon’ to ‘R-1 Suburban Residential.’

The property sits near the Glacier View Golf Course bounded by a bend in the Flathead River, directly across from the entrance to Glacier National Park, and is jointly owned by Jane Parker O’Hara, Douglas Parker, Karen Parker Wandel, Luke Hansen, Patrick Maloney and Kirsten Svennungsen.  

According to CALURS, the Middle Canyon Region, which includes the West Glacier area, does not allow for any residential development on a tract of land less than 25 acres in size, and existing residential development in the area was done prior to the adoption of CALURS in 1994. 

According to O’Hara, the Parker family were some of the original West Glacier residents when the township was renamed in 1949. Her father was a part owner of a dude ranch that covered most of the Flathead River bend outside Glacier Park where O’Hara and her siblings grew up riding horses before there was any development in the area. The dude ranch was later sold to the golf course, but the Parker family retained some property in the area.

“All we want is the land that my Dad had to be divided between the family to develop and have our own little residential piece,” O’Hara said at a commissioners meeting on April 28. “We just want to be able to develop that piece, we’re not there to ruin anything in West Glacier.”

The surrounding properties in the area are a mixture of Middle Canyon, one- and two-family residential, and resort business, which predate the neighborhood plan. 

CALURS is one of 20 neighborhood plans in Flathead County designed as site-specific reflections of a community’s vision for growth. According to the Flathead County Growth Policy, a neighborhood plan is the “most grass root form of local participation and influence.” Each neighborhood plan has its own advisory board that makes recommendations on development to the county’s planning board and the commissioners. 

The Parker Zoning District request got unanimous approval from the Middle Canyon Advisory Board on March 29 as well as from the county’s planning board on April 13, though public hearings at both meetings, and multiple meetings with the county commission, drew many public comments from the community. 

 Most concerns were not over the increased density on the parcel, but how it was being achieved. 

“My concern is a loss of the integrity of the Canyon Plan,” said West Glacier resident Sharon DeMeester. “It is a document that has protected the surrounding area of Glacier Park and has provided for the protection of water, quality of life and the unique character of the West Glacier Area.”

Mayre Flowers of Citizens for a Better Flathead expressed worries over setting a precedent for private landowners to opt out of neighborhood plans in the future if the local zoning did not allow them to pursue a desired development style. 

An alternate route to seek a variance within the CALURS was discussed with county planning staff and the applicants, but it was deemed unlikely they would meet the stringent criteria. Amending CALURS to allow smaller lot sizes was also discussed, but that would drastically change development rules for the entire canyon area. 

“This is the road they ultimately chose because it would only impact this property and it was feasible for them to get,” planning director Erik Mack told the commissioners. 

“I just want to reiterate how much we cherish West Glacier. We’ve been good stewards of the land, and this particular land, for over 60 years,” Kirsten Svennungsen, who is O’Hara’s niece, said. “We care about upholding the integrity of West Glacier, and with all my heart I do believe this will be the best use of the land. There are four generations involved in protecting this land and this community and we would cherish the opportunity to enjoy and protect it for future generations.”