Cities oppose proposed industrial zone

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A proposed zone change that would open the door to more commercial development on U.S. 93 near the county landfill has drawn opposition from both Whitefish and Kalispell city officials.

Paul and Heather McDonald of Scottsdale, Arizona, are asking for a zoning map amendment in the Highway 93 North Zoning District that would change the zoning on roughly 9.5 acres along the highway from SAG-10, suburban agricultural with a 10-acre minimum lot size, to light industrial. They’re also asking to switch the zoning on 10 adjoining acres away from the highway from SAG-10 to SAG-5.

The McDonalds originally had asked for light industrial zoning on 14.47 acres and SAG-5 zoning on 5 acres, and had won a favorable recommendation from the county Planning Board. Just before a scheduled public hearing before the Flathead County commissioners, they changed the zoning proposals on the acreage configurations, according to a county planning staff report.

The property is located at 4015 U.S. 93 N., between the highway and Scenic Ridge Road. It’s currently an undeveloped open field on the east side of U.S. 93 in the vicinity of the landfill.

The property on the west side of U.S. 93 is zoned for commercial and industrial uses, and the property directly north of the McDonald acreage recently received a zone change to light industrial.

Because the entire parcel is 19.46 acres it can’t be split in its current zoning designation, and the lower half of the property “does not make suitable residential use given the highway and neighboring land uses, while the upper half of the property is more suited for suburban agriculture,” the applicants stated.

The Kalispell Planning Department has recommended denial of the zone change, noting that the Highway 93 North Zoning District enacted by property owners in the middle 1990s aimed to avoid urban sprawl.

“This effort is at the heart of protecting our scenic corridors along highways (note the property is located on Scenic Ridge Road), a view championed by the great community,” the Kalispell Planning Department said in its written comments.

Rezoning the property to light industrial would take all future development control away from the county, which could lead to more strip commercial and industrial development, Kalispell officials said. The planning department pointed to a previous zone change to industrial on the property where Bergeson RV is now located. Kalispell planners also had recommended denial of that zone change.

The Whitefish Planning Department reiterated Kalispell’s concerns, noting the continuing commercial sprawl along the U.S. 93 corridor is contrary to Whitefish’s city-county growth policy and all previously adopted long-range plans.

Whitefish argued there is ample commercial and industrial development potential within Whitefish and Kalispell’s city boundaries. But the staff report findings note the proposed light industrial zoning generally complies with the county growth policy and point out the property is across the highway from the county landfill.

The light industrial zone requires greater setbacks for properties along a highway, landscape buffering and other design criteria to minimize the visual impacts, the staff report said.

A public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14, in the second-floor conference room of the South Campus Building, 40 11th St. W., Suite 200, in Kalispell.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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