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Asphalt plant, Polebridge retreat centers top agenda

by Kianna Gardner
Daily Inter Lake | August 2, 2020 1:00 AM

Topping the Flathead County Board of Adjustment’s heavy agenda Tuesday is a request for a modification to an existing conditional-use permit that would allow for the operation of a concrete and asphalt batch plant at a gravel extraction facility in West Valley.

An appeal to a decision made by the county zoning administrator to forward a favorable recommendation to the board was filed in late May arguing, among other points, that the application for the condition modification should not have been accepted and processed and was lacking important information such as intended operational volume and capacity. The appeal was denied at the board’s June meeting after a tie vote between members, which allowed the application to move forward for consideration.

Since the June meeting, supplemental information regarding groundwater concerns, fire fighting and spill prevention, traffic issues and more has been provided by the applicants.

According to the document provided, it is estimated that average trips per day in and out of the pit would increase by 5.3 trips per day with the addition of an asphalt plant and another 30 trips per day with the addition of a concrete batch plant, but “there is no immediate need to use a concrete batch plant at the pit.” However, according to county planning and zoning estimates, “additional traffic generated by the proposed batch plant is expected because the anticipated increase in traffic on Farm to Market Road is approximately 2% and the increase in traffic on Church Drive will be approximately 2.6%. The increases will be significantly more during the duration of a major paving project.”

The 160-acre property is located at 3427 Farm to Market Road and is zoned WV West Valley, which is defined as “a district to promote orderly growth and development in the West Valley area consistent with the community vision statements as expressed in the by the text and map exhibits of the West Valley neighborhood Plan.”

The property, which according to county documents is “currently under agricultural production and is being utilized as a gravel extraction operation with rock crushing operations,” is owned by Section 16 Family Limited of West Valley. Applicant Rob Koelzer of Schellinger Construction is requesting a modification to a condition of approval in the conditional-use permit that allows for gravel extraction. The condition in question reads “asphalt and concrete batch plants are prohibited.”

The pit operations and several requests for modifications to the original permit, which was granted in 2005, have been the subjects of litigation at both the Flathead County District Court and Montana supreme Court. And the current request to now operate batch plants has proven controversial among local West Valley property owners.

Members of the public have cited concerns related primarily to a potential increase in noise and traffic in the area, environmental impacts and the risks associated with any fires that may occur on the property. Many have also said increased operations at the property would detract from their overall quality of life.

Aside from traffic — a commonly expressed concern among members of the public — additional information from the applicant also states asphalt cement “is not flammable or combustion,” but in the event of a fire, the West Valley Fire Department “has the capability to handle any fire involving the asphalt oil tank.” In addition, the applicant states berms, mufflers and operating hours will help with noise and traffic congestion.

OTHER PUBLIC hearing items include three separate requests for conditional-use permits that would allow for the operation of camp and retreat centers within the North Fork Zoning District. The properties are zoned North Fork and Scenic Corridor and are located near Polebridge.

A retreat center is defined as “a land use to provide camping or retreat center activities characterized by a rural setting in a rustic environment. Uses are primarily seasonal, but they shall not be limited to such. The uses permitted may be affiliated with the organization running the camp or retreat center, however, the general public is not restricted from such use.”

Two of the three subject properties are near one another, with one located at 8954 and 8958 North Fork Road and the other at 8950 North Fork Road. The application involving two addresses was submitted by North Fork Cabins LLC and the other was submitted by Northern Lights Land LLC.

The third property is located at 1070 Numa Peak Lane and the request for the conditional-use permit comes from Montana Yoga Adventure. According to a planning staff report, the owner of the property was issued a violation letter after the Flathead City-County Health Department found several services that would require licensure were being advertised on the property. These included accommodation rental, a campground and a hot tub. In addition to this violation, the staff report shows the property also was issued a septic system violation. In order for the subject property to be approved as a camp and retreat center, these issues must first be resolved by the board.

FINALLY, THE board will also consider an appeal regarding a decision made by the county planning director to refuse to process an application for a conditional-use permit for a mini-storage facility near Whitefish.

The subject property at 5850 U.S. 93 S. in the Blanchard Lake District is owned by Starline Flight LLC. The appeal was submitted by Brian M. Joos. Esq on behalf of Montana Personal Warehouse I, LLC, which is under contract to purchase the property from Starline.

The applicant wants to build 75 mini-storage units that would be 25-by-50 feet each. The structures would occupy about 30% of the lot, which in total, is almost 7 acres in size. According to a staff report, the applicant is also proposing a Declaration of Unit Ownership and wants to make the units available for sale and would allow the storage of vehicles.

But Flathead County Planning Director Mark Mussman determined the planning office was unable to process the request due to county zoning regulations. Mussman specifically referred to one regulation that states “all storage shall be kept within an enclosed building, except propane or gasoline engines or storage tanks or any boat or vehicle incorporating such components, which shall be stored in screened exterior areas.”

However, the appellant is arguing Mussman “erred in boxing the proposed project exclusively into ‘mini-storage’” when they feel it is not true mini storage, but rather personal warehouse space in which a variety of permitted and conditional uses could take place on the parcel. In the appeal, the appellant highlights several issues, including how the proposed use is not true mini-storage and that any indoor vehicle storage is actually consistent with “a variety of permitted and conditional uses.”

If the board votes on Tuesday to grant the appeal, the original application will then also be considered by the board. Decisions by the Board of Adjustment are considered final.

The board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 4 in the Expo Building at the Flathead County Fairgrounds, 265 North Meridian Road in Kalispell.

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com