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County commissioners reject zone change request by Florida developer

| September 6, 2023 2:00 AM

Nine concerned constituents stood before the Flathead County Commissioners on Thursday, Aug. 31 to oppose a zone change request for 12 acres of land along U.S. Highway 2 near Columbia Falls owned by Location Ventures, LLC of Florida. Ultimately, the commissioners unanimously sided with the citizens and the county planning board’s recommendation to deny the request.

Location Venture’s parcel, just east of the Flathead River Bridge, is surrounded by farmlands and neighbors the Bad Rock Wildlife Management Area to the north. The proposed change would have rezoned the property from SAG-10, which has a minimum lot size of 10 acres, to R-1, which has a minimum lot size of one acre. R-1 zoning would allow for more suburban residential-style housing.

A primary concern aired at the public hearing was additional traffic to the intersection of Highway 2 and Montana Highway 206, though planning board findings suggested only a 1% traffic increase that would have to be approved by Montana Department of Transportation before highway access would be permitted. Water use and sewage drainages were also a concern, with a high water table in the area, potential pollutants to the Flathead River and surrounding water shortages listed. Wildlife corridors and open space preservation were also discussed.

“Everyone knows what an economic engine Glacier National Park is to Flathead Valley and the state,” said Becky Williams of Columbia Falls. “If wildlife is to be a part of Glacier’s future, it needs connectivity. It can not just exist in the high mountains… it needs valley protection as well.”

The planning board initially stated that the change would not constitute spot zoning, as the area could serve as a “buffer” between low density residential and higher-level commercial use land in the surrounding areas.

While agricultural use would still be permissible in R-1 zoning, Flathead County Planning and Zoning Director Erik Mack pointed out that most agricultural operations utilize more than one acre. This reinforced the concern, presented by both constituents and commissioner Brad Abell, that the change would be spot zoning, incompatible with the surrounding land usage.

The developer previously suggested that Location Ventures could provide affordable housing on the parcel, but commissioner Pamela Holmquist expressed her doubts that going from SAG-10 to R-1 could offer such a thing.

“Back in my day, and I’m a little older, single-wides were affordable housing. If you go to R-1, you can’t have single-wides, you have to have a double-wide. So, affordable housing is subjective… People are going to pay whatever they can pay for their house,” Holmquist said.

While Abell was sure to note that the developer’s legal proceedings could not factor into their decision, constituents expressed their distaste for Location Ventures and former CEO Rishi Kapoor, who has been under investigation by the FBI and Securities Exchange Commission for alleged payouts to city officials in exchange for luxury developments in Miami.

All three commissioners agreed that going from SAG-10 to R-1 would be too big of a leap for the area, leading to their rejection of Location Venture’s request.

The land is now listed for sale, perhaps marking an end of land speculation by Location Ventures in Columbia Falls.