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Proposed industrial rezoning draws opposition from Kalispell

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | November 29, 2020 12:00 AM

The owner of an RV dealership along U.S. 93 proposes to rezone about 14 acres of neighboring land to allow for light industrial use – a proposal that has drawn opposition from the city of Kalispell.

The request will be the focus of a public hearing Dec. 9 before the Flathead County Planning Board.

Donovan Bergeson's dealership is across the highway from the county landfill, between Kalispell and Whitefish. In their application, Bergeson and Sands Surveying Inc. propose rezoning an adjacent piece of undeveloped land for light industrial use. The 14-acre property, which abuts the highway and straddles Scenic Ridge Road, is currently zoned for suburban agriculture with 10-acre minimum lot sizes.

Bergeson said Friday he hopes to add fencing and storage units to the property to store RVs; he said he has no immediate plans to host new businesses on the land, though the proposed rezoning would allow for it. He said the land's proximity to the landfill makes it a good fit for industrial commercial use.

"The property on the west side of the highway is zoned for commercial and industrial uses," Bergeson's application states, adding that the land for his dealership already has been rezoned for light industrial use. "The highway frontage in the vicinity of the landfill is better suited to light industrial use than residential use. The topography of the subject properties also creates a distinction between what would be light industrial use and the suburban agricultural use."

Kalispell's Planning Department submitted comments to the board opposing the proposal.

"The Highway 93 North Zoning District was specifically enacted by the property owners in the middle 1990s to avoid the spread of commercial and industrial development along U.S. 93. This effort is at the heart of protecting our scenic corridors along highways, a view championed by the greater community," the city said. "Rezoning the subject property [to light industrial] would take all future development control away from the county, which could lead to more strip commercial and industrial development."

County planning staff noted the land falls outside the boundaries of the urban-growth plans for both Kalispell and Whitefish. Staff also reported the proposed rezoning would have a minimal impact on highway traffic, but the city of Kalispell argued any commercial development in that area would be a hindrance.

"Anything less than a full-access approach onto Highway 93 would hinder future business access and success … and if approved will hinder the free-flowing capacities of Highway 93, a four-lane road that the greater Flathead has worked hard to develop, and must work harder to maintain in a free-flowing configuration," the city said. "There does not appear to be a coordinated effort to mitigate traffic impacts to the adjacent highway, and there is no perceived community benefit."

The Planning Board meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on Dec. 9 in the Expo Building at the Flathead County Fairgrounds, 265 N. Meridian Road in Kalispell. Face coverings are required for attendees ages 5 and older to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The Flathead County commissioners are expected to consider the proposed rezoning sometime after the Planning Board meeting and before Dec. 22.

ALSO ON Dec. 9, the Planning Board is scheduled to consider requests to rezone two suburban agriculture properties in Kalispell – 15 acres at 239 Fox View Trail and 10 acres at 940 Ranch Lane in Kalispell. The rezonings, proposed by River Design Group on behalf of the landowners, would shrink the minimum allowed lot sizes from 10 acres to 5 acres.

Additionally, Sands Surveying Inc. and Paul Wachholz have asked the board to approve a preliminary plat for Wild Bill Reserve, which would create six residential lots on 160 acres near Kila. And BBSB Holdings LLC has asked the board to approve a preliminary plat for the Baker 80 subdivision, which would create 16 residential lots on about 80 acres between U.S. 93 and Prairie View Road.

Lastly, the board is scheduled to consider a request from the Middle Canyon Land Use Advisory Committee for a text amendment updating requirements for work camps or housing for seasonal workers.

"This amendment gives local business owners the flexibility to provide seasonal housing in the form of a work camp while ensuring the health and safety of their employees and the community," the committee wrote. "These performance standards balance the employer's responsibility to provide quality, lower-cost employee housing that complies with Department of Environmental Quality-approved water and sewage-disposal capacity while keeping the employee housing structures in character with business sites and preserving the integrity and community character of West Glacier."

Reporter Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4434 or csokol@dailyinterlake.com