County faces lawsuit over Lake Five permit

by Chris Peterson
Editor | May 20, 2020 7:02 AM

A group of individuals have filed suit against Flathead County over a resort county commissioners approved earlier this year on Lake Five, a picturesque lake near Glacier National Park.

Friends of Lake Five, a nonprofit corporation, is challenging the county’s issuance of a major land use permit to GM Trust to build two houses, several rental cabins, an entertainment structure, two pavilions, two non-rental RV spaces and other structures, including a shop on about 24 acres off Grizzly Spur Road on the northwest side of Lake Five near West Glacier.

Dr. Susie Dietz of Anchorage, Alaska heads up the GM Trust and is marketing the property as a vacation destination called Whistlestop Retreat.

Marketing aside, county planning staff and county commissioners determined that the project was actually residential, not commercial.

Friends of Lake Five, in their lawsuit, balk at that assertion, noting if it’s fully built out, it can serve at least 70 guests.

“The county arbitrarily and capriciously granted the permit approval as a residential use despite the increased occupancy and commercial development nature of the change in use of the property to create a commercial resort which is subject to developmental and commercial regulations,” Friends of Lake Five claim.

The suit also claims the commissioners and planning staff allowed changes to the final plat after the public comment period and didn’t allow comments after that, a violation of Montana law.

In addition, the easement to the private road that access the property clearly does not allow commercial use of the property, yet the county allowed it anyway, the suit maintains.

In addition, the new access road the county approved is within 50 feet of wetlands, a violation of natural resource protections, the suit claims.

The suit also claims the county did not follow its own design standards for the area’s zoning regulations by allowing a cabin that looks like a caboose and a “fire tower” to be put on the property.

In addition, the suit claims, Dietz violated by the lakeshore zone protection regulations when she built several docks. The county gave her permits “after the fact” without public comment, which, Friends of Lake Five claim, is also a violation of the law.

The suit is asking for the court to throw out the major use land permit for the resort.

The suit was filed in Flathead County District Court in late March, but county commissioners acknowledged service of the suit last week.

Initially, the The Middle Canyon Land Use Advisory Committee gave the project a negative recommendation on a variety of fronts, including impacts to the lake itself, nearby wetlands, and the access issues. But their recommendation was trumped by the county planning board and county commissioners in February and March, respectively.

Friends of Lake Five are represented by Whitefish attorney Clifton Hayden.

The GM Trust land was most previously owned by the Sherwood family and was a family retreat. James Sherwood was an author and his family founded General Mills, the food industry giant. They sold it to Deitz in 2018. Sherwood has since died.