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Kalispell Planning Commission to host hearing on city's future participation plan

by CARL FOSTER
Daily Inter Lake | February 13, 2024 12:00 AM

Kalispell Planning Commission will solicit input Tuesday on a forthcoming public participation plan, which will change how residents engage with the city on developments and establish a long-term game plan for city growth.

The new plan is mandated by Senate Bill 382, also known as the Montana Land Use Planning Act, signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte in May 2023. Part of a package of bills aimed at addressing the state’s housing crunch, SB 382 was designed to front-load public comment for undeveloped land and then fast-track developments as an administrative process for periods of five years.

The Planning Commission meets the second Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 201 First Ave. E. Residents can attend in person or online at www.kalispell.com/480/Council-Meeting-Agendas-Videos. 

City documents describe the goal of the proposed plan as creating a “clear and accessible public process” ensuring input is sought and considered “from a broad range of participants.”

As for practical application, the proposal calls for alerting the public to land use plan changes via notices published in newspapers, posts on the city website, social media updates and press releases, among other avenues. City staff would then organize meetings with community groups and government boards; disseminate surveys and comment forms; host charrettes and public hearings; and attend public events, among other outreach efforts.

The participation plan also warns that public input regarding site-specific projects will be limited under the new, state-mandated system. 

“The changes will front-load public input, with limited public involvement during land use permit and application reviews, including subdivisions,” the proposal reads.

The Montana Land Use Planning Act applies to cities with more than 5,000 residents located in counties with a population exceeding 70,000. Eligible municipalities must comply with the new governance structure by May 2026, pending litigation by groups such as Montanans Against Irresponsible Densification. 

That organization, which boasts members in the Flathead Valley, has argued that the law intrudes on municipal governance, violates the Montana Constitution’s right of participation and is bound to have disproportionate effects on neighborhoods.

After the hearing, the commission is expected to forward its recommendation to Kalispell City Council. City staff are recommending the commission endorse the proposal. 

THE COMMISSION will also hear public comments on potential environmental impact of future upgrades and repairs on the Depot Park building.

The hearing comes as part of the city’s effort to secure a $500,000 Montana Historic Preservation Grant for the undertaking, which would see the building receive a new roof with historically accurate eaves, gutters and paint, according to city documents. 

The city-owned structure has undergone interior renovations in recent months in anticipation of the municipality’s Parks and Recreation Department moving into the space. The agency’s former home is expected to subsequently be converted into an evidence facility for the Kalispell Police Department. 

Lastly, the Scoreboard Sports Bar, TTC Investments and Mitch Tormohlen have submitted a request for annexation of a parking lot and abandoned alley right of way along 51, 55, and 75 Woodland Park Drive, which will serve as the subject of a public hearing. The applicants are asking that the land be zoned B-1, neighborhood business. 

The 17,400-square-foot space is being eyed as the site of a future apartment complex, according to city documents. 

City staff is recommending the commission recommend the annexation and zoning to Council following the public hearing. 

Reporter Carl Foster can be reached at 758-4407 or cfoster@dailyinterlake.com.