County wants to streamline ag zoning

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Reflecting the downsizing of farmland acreage in Flathead County, a proposal is in the works to eliminate agricultural tract zoning for larger tracts and replace it with one district: agricultural zoning with a minimum lot size of 20 acres.

The county Planning Board has proposed the change, along with several other zoning text amendments that will be considered during a public hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 12.

Only 2.9 percent of privately owned property zoned AG-80 — agricultural land with an 80-acre minimum lot size — meets that minimum lot size. And only 13.2 percent of AG-40 property meets the minimum lot size of 40 acres, according to the planning staff report.

“By having just one agricultural zone, the amount of legal, nonconforming lots will be greatly reduced,” the report stated. “Property owners currently in the AG-80 and AG-40 zone that do not possess either 80 or 40 acres, but do possess at least 20 acres should have more flexibility with the future of their property.”

The Egan Slough Zoning District, a tract of 1,680 acres of largely agricultural land near Creston, will remain with its current zoning of AG-80, county Planning Director Mark Mussman said, because it is the only place in Flathead County with Part 1, or citizen-initiated zoning, and is governed by its own zoning commission. A citizen-initiated process to enlarge the Egan Slough Zoning District was successful following a ballot initiative in June.

The expanded district includes the property where Montana Artesian Water Co. is operating, despite the ballot initiative that was aimed at blocking the bottling plant operation.

Another proposed zoning text amendment would eliminate the B-2HG zone — also known as the greenbelt zone — because there is no property zoned with that designation. When the greenbelt zone was developed in 2011, it was designed to mitigate the effects of commercial development along highway corridors, the staff report noted.

A legal battle erupted after the greenbelt zoning was imposed on 63 acres north of Kalispell on U.S. 93, with the Montana Supreme Court upholding part of a District Court ruling that the county commissioners erred in placing the greenbelt zoning on that tract.

The county, however, kept the greenbelt zone on the books.

The staff report said the county’s South Whitefish Overlay zoning is much more comprehensive in mitigating the effects of commercial development along highway corridors.

The proposed zoning amendments either tweak or eliminate various zoning designations. Some districts will be consolidated, renamed, or definitions will be added, removed or clarified.

The Airport Overlay District, for example, would be eliminated because the city of Kalispell has annexed nearly all of the property close to the Kalispell Airport. The B-5 tourist retail zone also would be axed because there is no property with that zoning, and all of the uses, both permitted and conditionally permitted, in that zone exist in other county zoning district.

Explaining the reason for the zoning amendments, the staff report indicated a three-pronged goal: simplify the language or permitted or conditional uses for consistency; help the staff’s ability to administer the regulations; and make the regulations more accessible to the public.

Mussman said the changes reflect issues that staff have encountered through the years in administering the zoning regulations.

“It seems that at least on a weekly basis, planning staff encounters deficiencies in the regulations,” the staff report noted. “These deficiencies appear either in the form of inconsistent and archaic language, terms that are not defined, language and requirements that make the regulations difficult for the general public to understand, or language that makes the regulations difficult to administer.”

The Planning Board meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, in the second-floor conference room of the South Campus Building, 40 11th St. W., Kalispell.

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

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