County poised to adopt U.S. 93 corridor plan

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After more than five hours of discussion and a final round of tweaking, the Flathead County commissioners on Oct. 18 are expected to take the first formal step in adopting a corridor plan and overlay zone for a stretch of U.S. 93 south of Whitefish.

The commissioners will meet at 9 a.m. in their chambers on the third floor of the Courthouse in Kalispell to consider a resolution of intent to adopt the plan. They will take public comments for 15 minutes beginning at 8:45 a.m.

If the resolution of intent is approved, another 30-day public comment period would start around Nov. 1, with a final vote expected around Dec. 1.

The need for a corridor plan emerged in the wake of a legal battle between Whitefish and Flathead County for planning control of the Whitefish “doughnut” area. The legal standoff dragged on for years until a 2014 Montana Supreme Court ruling ceded control to the county.

During the “doughnut” litigation residents along the highway argued they were being held in limbo for planning decisions about their property. Getting the corridor plan to this point was a citizen-initiated effort. Property owners hired land-use planner Dave DeGrandpre to draft the plan that aims to give them more flexibility in how they can develop their property.

The overlay zone includes 1.5 miles of the highway corridor south of the intersection of U.S. 93 and Montana 40. The proposal also includes the rezoning of 490 acres to include various levels of commercial zoning.

“They’ve gone over the findings, talked about public comments, the growth policy, strip development, sprawl, compatibility with the city of Whitefish, the Whitefish growth policy and future land-use map,” county Planning Director Mark Mussman said. “There are 40 findings of fact and we talked about all of them to one degree or another. They’ve suggested some changes, a word here or there.”

The commissioners chose to leave the proposed secondary business zoning in place for the properties near the intersection of U.S. 93 and Montana 40. Residents of the nearby Emerald Heights subdivision had pushed for more restrictive business service district zoning, arguing secondary business zoning allows uses such as convenience stores and gas stations that typically have lots of in-and-out traffic and bright lights.

Emerald Heights does have a platted buffer within the boundaries of the subdivision, Mussman said. “Some extensive vegetative buffers exist.

“[The commissioners’] feeling was, if this gets approved and that property is developed in the county as a B2A (secondary business) zone with an overlay, there would be further site plan review and approval,” Mussman said.

The city of Whitefish has weighed in on the county’s plan, saying the design standards in the overlay are consistent with the city’s standards. Even so, Whitefish Planning Director David Taylor said the city opposes commercial zoning south of Montana 40 because of infrastructure inadequacies and the potential for commercial sprawl.

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

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