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Lake County rejects zone change for proposed recreation park

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | July 21, 2021 1:05 PM

The Lake County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously rejected a change to zoning regulations for an area along the west shore of Flathead Lake that would have paved the way for a proposed outdoor recreation facility that drew immense opposition from neighbors.

The commissioners cited potential traffic problems as their No. 1 concern before rejecting the proposal from Torsten and Jessica Wedel.

The Wedels had asked the county to amend zoning regulations so they could build the outdoor park on about 17 acres between Lakeside and Rollins, on the west side of U.S. 93 and just south of Goose Bay and Table Bay. The couple said they aimed to provide family-friendly activities for both locals and tourists outside the more popular areas of the Flathead Valley.

The plan was fiercely controversial and prompted hundreds of letters of opposition to the Lake County Planning Board, which recommended the commissioners deny the application in April. Many opponents raised concerns about noise, impacts on wildlife and the environment, and additional traffic on U.S. 93.

The commissioners — Gale Decker, Dave Stipe and Bill Barron — opted to let the application and public hearing process move forward before rejecting the proposal on Tuesday. The decision was met with applause by opponents of the project who attended the meeting.

"As a commissioner, I'm glad that we took the process to completion," Decker said. He noted the overwhelming public opposition and added, "I don't think there's a solution to the traffic issues."

THE PROPOSED amendment to the county's Upper West Shore Zoning District regulations would have allowed for a range of commercial outdoor recreation activities in an area known as Subdistrict C, including nature viewing, ax throwing, outdoor laser tag, miniature golf, gem mining, rope courses, zip lines, summer day camps, horseback riding, tubing hills and "mountain rides."

The amended regulations specifically would have prohibited commercial swimming pools, water parks, bowling alleys, RV parks and commercial resorts. Currently, only a few commercial activities, such as vacation rentals and bed-and-breakfasts, are permitted in Subdistrict C.

The Wedels, who live in Stevensville, head the North American branch of Wiegand, a German company that manufactures slides, toboggan runs and unpowered roller coasters that many ski resorts use to attract business during the warmer months. In April, however, the couple told the Daily Inter Lake that Wiegand was not involved in their plans for the outdoor park.

The Wedels also rejected characterizations of their proposal as a "theme park" or an "amusement park," insisting their plans were more modest.

Early in the process, many neighbors alleged they had not received adequate formal notice of the Wedels' proposal. Even if the zoning amendment had been granted, however, the couple still would have had to apply for a conditional-use permit, undergo more public hearings and submit to building and environmental reviews by local and state officials in order to build the park.

Assistant editor Chad Sokol may be reached at 406-758-4439 or csokol@dailyinterlake.com.