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Land committee to take second look at Bigfork farm proposal

by MACKENZIE REISS
Bigfork Eagle | May 25, 2020 1:00 AM

The Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee will review three applications for amendments or zone changes to Bigfork-area properties at their May 28 meeting, including a request for a conditional use permit to operate a community farm on Montana 35. The meeting will take place on the video conferencing app, Zoom at 4 p.m. next Thursday.

Headlining the agenda is the rehearing of a request by Ranger Springs Farm for a conditional use permit to establish a camp/retreat center. The applicant’s aim is to host people of all ages for agricultural, educational and equestrian programs along with conducting farm tours. Through the nonprofit organization Paladin, which is based on the farm, organizers hope to showcase Western history and bring children with special needs or terminally illnesses for a day on the farm.

BLUAC previously discussed the proposal at their March meeting and recommended approval for the conditional use permit, but are bringing the issue forward for a second look after clarifying that only 156 acres of the 470 acre property will be used for the venture and after receiving additional public comment regarding parking.

In addition to opening a community accessible farm, Ranger Springs is also hoping to host a select number of large-scale events on the property such as ice-skating, rodeo and skijoring. The proposal incurred some negative feedback from the public during the initial review. Jill and Mike Stewart, who live adjacent to the ranch, said they were concerned about the ranch relying on large events to make the business viable while neighbor Bill Naumann didn’t want any concerts or large events that could result in parking and noise issues. But applicant, Doug Averill, said while there was no guarantee the operation would be financially viable, they were going to “give it our best shot.” The farm would dedicate 20 acres to growing organic produce to be sold locally and would also supply produce for Flathead Lake Lodge, which Averill and his family also own and operate.

Also on the agenda is a request to amend the neighborhood plan and to change the zoning on an Echo Bay Trail property from agricultural to suburban agriculture. The property, owned by Tyler and Keturah Kerst, is 22 acres in size.

The final proposal listed on the agenda is a request from Sands Surveying on behalf of Richard and Nancy Whitaker and Tim and Sherrie Calaway for a preliminary plat approval of The Fort — 14 commercial lots on 10 acres located on Montana 83.

BLUAC will forward their recommendations to the Flathead City-County Planning Board, who will also review the requests at a later date before making their recommendations to the Flathead County Commissioners, who have the final say on whether these proposals move forward. BLUAC meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at 4 p.m. and the agendas for their meetings can be found on the Flathead County Planning and Zoning website at www.flathead.mt.gov/planning_zoning.

Officers will also be elected during the meeting and the board is planning to discuss recruitment strategies for a BLUAC secretary.

To join the meeting, download the Zoom app on a smartphone or computer and join the meeting between 3:45 and 4 p.m. on Thursday May 28. Guests are also asked to type in their name and email address in the chat bar. Use the following link and meeting ID to gain access: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86957204320 and 869 5720 4320.