Saturday, June 03, 2023

District board issues cease and desist order on inholder home

Editor | April 12, 2023 2:00 AM

The Flathead Conservation District formally issued a cease and desist order to the California couple building a home on lower McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park.

The exterior structure of the house is all but done, including two decks that overlook the creek — but it has no siding.

That was the latest move by the district Monday night, which has also ordered the home be taken down by Nov. 1. The board previously found it was in violation of the Montana Natural Streambed and Land Preservation Act, also known as the 310 law.

John and Stacy Ambler, the owners of the home, have asked for a declaratory ruling in the matter.

Under the rules for a declaratory ruling, the Amblers are allowed to present their case and the district, in turn, appoints a hearing officer, which may be one of the supervisors.

Though at Monday’s meeting representatives from the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation noted that appointing a supervisor wasn’t advisable, because of the workload involved.

The hearing officer is an unpaid position.

A quorum of other supervisors must also be present at hearing.

The board has not appointed a hearing officer in the case. That is expected to happen at its next meeting on April 24.

Then a formal hearing will be scheduled.

The hearing officer then has 60 days to make a recommendation to the supervisors for their approval and adoption, though that can be extended if need be.

The ruling itself —consisting of findings of fact and conclusions of law — must be made by a concurrence of a majority of the board. Only those supervisors present during the hearing can participate in the decision.

If the Amblers are unsatisfied with the ruling, they can then petition Flathead County District Court for a review of the matter within 30 days.

If they disagree with the ruling of the district court judge, they can appeal to the Montana Supreme Court within 60 days.

The legal wrangling could mean the home, which is largely built but has no siding, could remain along the banks of the pristine stream for months more, if not years.

Crews have since boarded up the windows.

On Feb. 27, representatives of the conservation board, along with the owners and a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist examined the home, which is about 20 feet from the creek.

The board determined the stream bank been excavated in violation of the 310 law.

In addition to ordering the removal of the home, the board also required the Amblers to obtain a 310 permit — the permit that’s necessary to do any sort of work near a stream in Montana — to tear the home down.

The Amblers never applied, or received, a free 310 permit when they began construction. They previously claimed they didn’t know they needed one.

But Glacier Park spokeswoman Gina Kerzman said last week the couple was told when they inquired about building the home that they needed to comply with all state and county laws and regulations.

The parcel is not zoned. Private property is Glacier pre-dates the creation of the park in 1910. Over the years Glacier has slowly acquired many of the parcels, called inholdings, but some still remain, particularly near Lake McDonald.

The Ambler’s home is in Apgar, a subdivision of sorts that pre-dates Glacier. It is home to mostly private and rental cabins, a few shops and the Village Inn Motel, which is owned by the Park.

Glacier’s jurisdiction in the Ambler case begins at the high water mark, superintendent David Roemer previously has told the Hungry Horse News.

The Amblers were able to hook up to Park Service sewer and water, which allowed them, in part, to develop the lot in the first place.

The lot, according to public tax records, is only 2,309 square feet and is surrounded by Park Service lands.

The creek itself is rife with wildlife and birds, including black and grizzly bears, mountain lions, river otters and several beaver lodges. It drains Lake McDonald into the Middle Fork of the Flathead.

As the case plays out boardrooms, Mother Nature could soon test the home as well. Spring runoff will start in earnest in the coming months. Right now McDonald Creek is at its lowest point of the season. It will soon rise substantially as snows in the mountains melt and rain falls. May and June are historically wet months in Glacier.

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