Community concerns continue at second hearing on proposed county zoning revisions

Posted at 4:13 PM, Mar 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-27 18:43:31-04

GREAT FALLS – The Cascade County Planning Board held its second public hearing March 26 on proposed revisions to county zoning.

The proposal by county planning staff aims to divide current agricultural districts into new mixed use districts. The new districts, Mixed-Use 20 and Mixed Use 40 (MU-20, MU-40) districts. Areas zoned MU-20 would have a minimum lot size of 20 acres while MU-40 would have a minimum lot size of 40 acres.

Documents from planning staff, who wrote the proposed changes, state the MU-20 district better fits development patterns of more residential areas along transportation corridors.

It would allow new land uses with a Special Use Permit (SUP), not allowed in agricultural zones, including restaurants, micro-breweries, and other commercial uses that provide services to seasonal and year-round tourists.

The MU-40 district is designed to protect larger areas of agricultural land while removing the SUP process for some uses, including value-added agricultural commodity processing facilities, wildgame processing facilities, agricultural commodity storage facilities, and other uses.

However some items that would still require an SUP include oil and gas exploration and drilling, slaughterhouses, rendering plants and other uses.

In public comment, opponents said it doesn’t follow the county growth plan. One member of the planning board, Richard Liebert, also expressed concerns about changing county zoning before revising the growth plan.

Citizens raised concerns about the negative impacts on medical marijuana. The revisions adjust some county definitions of medical marijuana facilities and restricts them to areas zoned as Industrial 2 (I2). Public comment described limited land availability in I2 areas and property prices that would run local providers and growers out of business.

Many public comments revolved around the definitions of agricultural commodity and value and added agricultural commodity processing facilities should be expanded to specify whether the operations are crop or animal based.

Some attendants worried the proposed regulations would make it easier for large agricultural processing facilities to locate in the county, but Planning Board Chair, Elliot Merja said it would actually be more difficult.

There will be another public hearing on the proposal, but the date has not been set.

After that hearing, the board will have to decide whether or not it should go to the County Commission for approval.

Reporting by Joe Huisinga for MTN News