Lewis & Clark County approves regulations for Helena Valley zoning district

Posted at 12:12 AM, Oct 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-02 02:12:06-04

HELENA — The Lewis and Clark County Commission have approved a set of land use regulations for a new zoning district in the Helena Valley.

Special Zone District No. 51 covers about 389 acres. It includes more than 200 properties south of Forestvale Road and east of Green Meadow Drive.

Commissioners created the district in January, after a majority of landowners in the area asked for additional zoning. Since then, the county has worked on a neighborhood plan for the district, and a set of regulations to support that plan. The county’s Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the regulations move forward at a hearing Sept. 21.

The new zoning rules limit the allowable land uses in the district. Supporters say that will maintain the character of the surrounding area.

“I’m very pleased with the results, the outcome of this, because it preserves that neighborhood pretty much as it is, without the risk of heavy commercial activities that would disrupt the neighborhood,” said resident Archie Harper.

Harper was part of a group of residents that began advocating for a zoning district last year, after Valley Sand and Gravel announced plans for a gravel pit in the area. Neighbors said the mining operation wouldn’t be compatible with a largely residential area, and they were concerned about possible impacts on neighboring wells, as well as on local property values.

Valley Sand and Gravel filed an application for an opencut mining permit in 2019. Earlier this year, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality outlined what it described as “deficiencies” in the company’s plan and said it would not issue a permit until they submitted an updated application.

Kim Wilson, an attorney representing district residents, argued during Thursday’s commission meeting that, since the company has not yet received a permit, the new zoning rules should block the gravel pit project from moving forward. However, county leaders have said it’s not clear what will happen, since the permit process has already begun.

Kim Smith, the owner of Valley Sand and Gravel, declined to comment.

Thursday’s decision is not connected to the large-scale county-initiated zoning proposal for the Helena Valley, which the county commission will consider at a meeting next Tuesday.