Lewis & Clark County Commission moves forward with Fort Harrison area zoning, tables Military Affected Area proposal

Posted at 6:29 PM, Dec 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-20 20:46:47-05

HELENA – The Lewis and Clark County Commission is moving forward with proposed new zoning rules for the area around Fort Harrison, but putting off plans to create a “Military Affected Area” there.

“We determined that we didn’t need both,” said Commissioner Andy Hunthausen.

At their meeting Tuesday, Commissioners Hunthausen and Jim McCormick voted to approve regulations for two special zoning districts: the Fort Harrison Rural Growth Area and the Fort Harrison Urban Growth Area. The commissioners voted to table the proposal to create the Fort Harrison Compatibility Area, a Military Affected Area that would include both growth areas. However, they added some of the provisions from that proposal to the zoning plans.

Commissioner Susan Good Geise also voted to put off the Military Affected Area, but opposed the decision to move forward with the amended zoning plans.

The zoning regulations would apply to about 20,700 acres, mostly within one mile of the fort boundary. The Rural Growth Area and Urban Growth Area zoning would limit parcels to a minimum size of ten acres, except in “cluster developments” that include undeveloped open space or resource uses. Hunthausen said the added provisions from the MAA plans would prohibit uses like multi-family housing.

The new regulations were proposed as a way to implement a joint land use study for the Fort Harrison area, conducted by the fort, Lewis and Clark County, Broadwater County, Helena and Townsend. Leaders say the changes are needed to minimize any future conflicts between military operations and the people in the surrounding area.

But many property owners and residents in the area have raised concerns about the proposals, arguing they are unnecessary and could threaten their property values.

Hunthausen said the commission has held about 10 public meetings on the plan over the last two years. He said they have heard the concerns from residents and made a number of efforts to address them.

“What we tried to do is compromise,” he said. “We started with the original document, and they said, ‘You know, this is too onerous in some ways, are there things that you can do?’ Eliminating the MAA is one big one, eliminating some of the provisions that would have placed on people and eliminating an overlay that would have been there that isn’t now. So we did try to listen.”

Geise said she opposed the amended zoning regulations because she wanted to try the original regulations alone, without the added provisions from the Military Affected Area. She said military leaders had been willing to accept zoning as a first step, if the county would come back and consider the MAA proposals at a later time.

Starting Sunday, there will be a 30-day protest period for residents in the new growth areas. Each property owner will receive information on how to respond to the zoning proposals. Hunthausen said the commissioners will take those comments into consideration when making their final decision, possibly in February.