Bigfork residents sound off on permit proposal

December 22, 2018

More than a dozen Bigfork residents attended a public hearing on Thursday to discuss if the Land Use Advisory Committee should continue to be allowed to review conditional-use permits.

The meeting was scheduled after Flathead County commissioners voted unanimously to temporarily table a proposed bylaw amendment - sidelining the committee’s original request to allow teleconferencing and instead focusing on the group’s current advising responsibilities.

The commissioners moved to have the county attorney review the issue further and also suggested the public provide input, which the Bigfork community provided plenty of.

The committee polled attendees after more than an hour of discussion and hands shot up across the room overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining the group’s ability to make permit suggestions to the county’s Board of Adjustment.

“The stakes are extraordinarily high,” said Bigfork resident Lance Morgan. “I don’t know what they [the commissioners] think they are doing, but they shouldn’t be allowed to do it without a significant fight.”

Most who spoke at the meeting urged the committee to be proactive and approach the commissioners in person while the county attorney looks over Bigfork’s bylaws and advisory duties.

“We need to get aggressive and go on the defense and let them know this is a ridiculous idea that you would try to plan our community for us when you know nothing about what our community desires,” said Doug Averill, a longtime Bigfork local and owner of Flathead Lake Lodge.

For more than two decades the committee has acted as a liaison of sorts - connecting unincoporated Bigfork to the rest of the county. The committee is one of multiple allowed to review conditional-use permits, but only if they are able to seat quorum.

The bylaw amendment originally proposed by the committee requested the group be allowed to teleconference in, thus assuring quorum, but the request has been tabled while the other issue of conditional-use permit review is being evaluated by the county attorney.

Gary Krueger, the commissioner who was most vocal when questioning the committee review, said there is no real deadline for the evaluation, but estimated the issue will likely extend into next year.

One of Krueger’s primary arguments against the committee being allowed to review permits was that the Board of Adjustment should act independently and make decisions without the input of the committee in order to follow a more strict judicial-like process.

“I don’t think any committee should get to put in their two cents beforehand,” Krueger said. “It can lend itself to an unfair hearing.”

But at the meeting, residents and committee members said the suggested change in Bigfork’s bylaws would greatly limit the community’s voice in zoning decisions.

“This has been a neighborhood plan since its inception,” said committee member Jerry Sorensen. “Why are we now taking the neighborhood out of it?”

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

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