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County scraps scenic corridor sign change, for now

December 14, 2018

A proposed zoning text amendment that would have allowed more road signs along the county’s scenic corridor overlay was sidelined, at least temporarily, amid opposition during a public hearing Thursday before the Flathead County commissioners.

The proposal would have allowed advertising signs under 250 square feet in surface area to be displayed along the county’s scenic corridor. However, Planning Department personnel suggested to commissioners at the start of the meeting that the proposed amendment regarding signage in the scenic corridor be withdrawn in lieu of “compelling public interest” and much-needed terminology clarification in the newly proposed text.

All three commissioners, Gary Krueger, Phil Mitchell and Pam Holmquist, concurred, but said the issue may be reviewed at a later date.

Those in opposition of the adjustments to advertising signs in the county’s scenic corridor overlay generally cited concerns over how the signage may impact the Flathead Valley’s aesthetics. Many believe large signs would impact the beauty that locals and tourists value and businesses thrive on.

“We don’t want to kill the golden goose of tourism,” said Mayre Flowers, former executive director of Citizens for a Better Flathead.

But some came forward in support of the sign amendment, including Lana Batts with the West Shore Community Library in Lakeside.

Batts said the library, although located just off U.S. 93, remains hidden from many. She believes signs would allow the library to be visited by more locals and visitors alike, thus potentially contributing to the financing needed to maintain the all-volunteer, nonprofit organization.

Others identified potential loopholes in the current regulations and suggested tighter regulations for advertising signs . One Whitefish resident said some have may have found their way around billboard restrictions by displaying ads on the sides of large semi trucks parked off main roads.

Another proposed zoning adjustment would allow short-term housing rentals in various areas of the county, namely the county’s new B-4 and Business Service zones, so long as the properties adhere to certain performance standards.

Whitefish Planning Director David Taylor pointed out in a letter to the commissioners that Whitefish does not allow short-term rentals in its adjacent WB-2 and WBSD zones.

“Allowing short-term rentals as a permitted use in the B-4 (formerly B-2A) doesn’t make sense, as the B-4 doesn’t even allow residential development as a permit use,” Taylor said. “The change would apparently make it so that the only new residential uses permitted in the B-4 would be for short-term rentals. Would the county prohibit residents from living in their dwellings long-term?”

Taylor also noted that short-term rentals drive up the prices on property and force out long-term rentals.

“With affordable housing being such an important concern throughout the Flathead Valley, we urge you to reconsider these amendments,” he stated.

But some residents said short-term rentals are a much-needed economic opportunity in certain areas that mostly rely on hotels to accommodate tourists, such as Evergreen.

“There are a number of empty lots in Evergreen that no one is renting, that can be rented,” said Paul Roybal, a local retail flooring business owner. “Locals can use these properties to supplement their incomes as opposed to seeing that money go to corporate companies.”

Short-term rental housing, defined as “a residential use in a dwelling unit designed for sure use for periods of time less than 30 days.” The properties, often referred to as vacation rentals, have been one of relative contention throughout Flathead County.

The short-term rental housing units in those designated district would need to adhere to certain performance standards, including adequate off street parking and obtaining a tourist accommodation license.

Last year the commissioners approved a zoning text amendment that set performance standards for rentals in zoned areas of the county.

Operators of vacation rentals are required to obtain an administrative conditional-use permit through the county Planning Office.

The commissioners took all of the proposed text amendments under advisement and will act on them at a later date.

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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