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North Fork camp and retreat proposals denied

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | August 8, 2020 1:00 AM

North Fork residents showed up en masse to Tuesday’s Flathead County Board of Adjustment meeting to speak against three separate proposals for conditional-use permits that would allow for multiple camp and retreat centers in Polebridge.

All three properties are zoned North Fork and Scenic Corridor and are located within the North Fork Zoning District. After reviewing the applications earlier this summer, the North Fork Land Use Advisory Committee recommended the board deny the applications.

North Fork residents expressed myriad concerns over the applications.

Most who spoke at the meeting pointed to the proposals’ vagueness and said they seemed to contradict the North Fork Neighborhood Plan, which calls for safeguarding the peaceful, remote nature of the area, among other measures.

And after more than three hours of deliberations and public comment, the board voted to deny two applications and an applicant voluntarily tabled another request.

Two of the proposals, although submitted separately by two different applicants, collectively involve adjacent properties located at 8954, 8958 and 8950 North Fork Road. Combined, the subject properties are about 20 acres in size.

The parcel located at 8954 and 8958 North Fork Road — the subject property for one of the two applications — contains four detached cabins and several accessory structures. The site plan provided by applicant Heather Matthews indicated about eight tent camping sites were proposed throughout the property.

Tent camping sites and recreational vehicle sites were also proposed in the second application submitted by Susan Evans, a relative of Heather Matthews, involving the adjacent property at 8950 North Fork Road. But according to the staff report, the application materials did not specify the number of sites.

Matthews, who spoke on behalf of both applications, offered the board additional information on the proposals that differed from the information in the submitted proposals. She said she “just wanted to allow people to tent camp on her property” and added that people would be able to “camp for free,” but suggested they may be charged for other happenings at the properties, including live music. She also did not provide a concrete figure for how many tents she is looking to host, but later said about 50 to 100. At one point Matthews asked the board to instead consider approving a campground application instead of a camp and retreat center.

Board members ultimately decided the applications did not adequately spell out what Matthews was interested in applying for and as they were presented, didn’t “seem to fit at all with the North Fork area,” according to member Tobias Liechte.

The board voted unanimously to deny the application involving the two addresses and the applicant voluntarily tabled the second application for 30 days. Matthews was not present at the meeting when the first application was under review and therefore could not answer the board’s questions, prompting the board to deny the permit request. Matthews wanted to table both applications, but the first had already been denied.

THE BOARD considered, and ultimately denied, a third North Fork area request from Montana Yoga Adventure LLC for a conditional-use permit that would allow for a yoga retreat. The subject property is located at 1070 Numa Peak Lane in Polebridge and currently contains a single-family dwelling, cabin, storage, shed, a restroom facility, sauna and four canvas tents on wooden platforms.

According to the staff report, the existing structures on the property would have been utilized for the center and an additional restroom facility would have been added. The application stated, “The Rising Wolf Retreat will host yoga retreats, writer’s retreats, and certifications for yoga teachers, as well as yoga classes to the local residents of Polebridge. The Retreat will also host small groups or individuals who wish to curate their own retreat.”

Applicant Brooke Allison was present at Tuesday’s meeting and said the retreats would occur four times per year and would include no more than 12 guests, in addition to three individuals who reside on the property currently. Allison said it would be a donation-based yoga retreat with the goal to “give back” and “offer people an escape.” She said a typical retreat would be around five days and they would only run during the summer months.

However, the property owners violated county zoning regulations by erecting the four tents prior to getting approval and had been actively renting out the tents as well. Aside from concerns regarding this active violation, a handful of board members said the property is far from various emergency services, should guests of the proposed retreat need medical treatment or if there is a fire on the property.

The applicant said given the somewhat physically demanding nature of the retreat, it would be unlikely that guests would need medical treatment, but also said nearby North Fork residents with medical experience had said they would be willing to help if needed.

While Allison also insisted the retreats would not disrupt neighbors or “set a new precedent for the North Fork,” attendees argued it would. One individual said the proposal “undermines the North Fork” and if it were to be approved, the area’s zoning “may become unraveled.”

While some board members said the applicant’s asks seemed reasonable, the board ultimately voted 3-to-2 to deny the application.

All decisions by the Board of Adjustment are considered final. Should applicants wish to reapply, they may do so after one year.

Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com