Board of adjustment rejects two N. Fork projects; tables a third

by TERESA BYRD
Staff Writer | August 5, 2020 2:05 AM

The Flathead County Board of Adjustment reviewed three separate requests for conditional use permits brought forth by property owners within the North Fork Zoning District Tuesday. The board denied two of the permits and tabled another.

The decisions nearly paralleled recommendations from the North Fork Land Use Advisory Committee which reviewed the requests during a public hearing the week prior and had recommended a denial of all three applications.

Two of the applications, submitted by Heather Matthews of North Fork Cabins, LLC and Susan Evans of Northern Lights Land, LLC, are for adjacent properties — 15 and 4.9 acres respectively — requesting a permit for the proposed use of what appeared to be the same Camp or Retreat Center. According to staff reports, the first application sought to create eight campsites and to utilize four existing structures for the proposed use, while the second appeared to seek 11 RV and 15 tent camping sites, although a number was never clearly specified in the application.

The sites were just drawn on a map, not actually described.

All told, the properties, which are located in and around Home Ranch Bottoms, appeared to request 37 new campsites on a combined 19.9 acres.

More than 40 people attended the hearing, and most were opposed to the projects.

The Home Ranch Bottoms applications received eight oppositional public comments and no support. Concerns from the public ranged from insufficient law enforcement and emergency medical services to handle the influx of people, to the potential fire hazard of an uncontrolled campground, to septic capacity for possible RV sites, and the lack of specificity in enumerating the exact number of campsites requested, with worries that the number could escalate well beyond the estimate.

The first of the paired applications was denied in part to an incomplete application that left “too many questions and not enough answers,” according to board member Calvin Dyck, and in part to the absence of the applicant to defend the request. The applicant, Matthews, arrived in time to defend the second of the paired applications but eventually took the board's recommendation to table the application until a more concrete plan could be offered.

The last application, submitted by Brooke Allison of Montana Yoga Adventure, LLC, requested the proposed use of a Camp and Retreat Center on a 5.3 acre plot, containing the existing Rising Wolf Retreat, in a small subdivision just north of Polebridge. The applicant requested using the existing structures of the property, which, according to the staff report, include a single-family dwelling, a cabin, storage shed, four canvas tents on wooden platforms, a sauna and restroom facility for use in periodic activities such as yoga and writing retreats, yoga teacher certifications, and local yoga classes. The proposed use said it would have a 12 guest maximum capacity and the addition of a new bathroom facility requiring a new septic system.

The yoga retreat application received one public comment in support and 14 in opposition. Some concerns cited staff report findings of the property owner previously being in violation of necessary licensure for certain activities being conducted on the property, as well as a septic system violation, and that given these violations, further compliance may be dubious. Nearly all oppositional comments echoed a main concern that the proposed use did not fit the character of the neighborhood and would undermine 20- plus years of community planning.

“If this permit is accepted, our zoning may very well become unraveled. This unique, arduously developed plan, [implemented] years ago has been at the forefront of maintaining the unique character of the North Fork,” Randy Kenyon, chair of the North Fork Land Use Advisory Committee said.

In rebuttal, the Allison claimed the main objective of the donation-based retreats would be to offer people a chance to experience the unique and wild character of the area.

“It’s a little disheartening coming into a new community and being called a thinly-veiled plan to profit off an area, when our intention is to share it with others, and I feel like the overall sentiment is not wanting to share that with others,” Allison said.

The five member board denied the application 3-2, citing wildlife safety concerns, lack of emergency services, and the residential, rather than commercial nature of the site.

The tabled application will be readdressed in a month and denied applications, if resubmitted, must wait a year before being reconsidered.