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County officially takes over Columbia Falls' doughnut

by CHRIS PETERSON
Hungry Horse News | July 5, 2024 12:00 AM

The Flathead County commissioners on Thursday unanimously voted in favor of interim zoning for the former doughnut of properties around the city of Columbia Falls.

The zoning largely mirrors what was already in place when the city had jurisdiction of the area.

The county over the next several months will then look to make the zoning regulations permanent and adhere to county codes.

The city lost its doughnut, a 1-to 2-mile area around the city where it had planning jurisdiction, following changes to state law.

County planner Erik Mack said the county will hold a few public workshops in September and October to discuss the permanent zoning regulations before eventually codifying them.

That process will likely take at least a year. The interim zoning can be extended if need be up to another year, Mack noted.

Shirley Folkwein and Luci Yeats of the Upper Flathead Neighborhood Association both spoke in favor of the interim zoning and said the organization plans on being active in the future discussions. Resident Fred Haas said he would be interested as well.

Folkwein said the Upper Flathead Neighborhood Association was for “sensible growth.”

The Association was very active in opposing high density housing projects that were previously proposed just east of the Flathead River outside of Columbia Falls.

Traffic, impacts on wildlife and impacts on the rural character of the area were all concerns in the often contentious meetings with the old city-county planning board.

Under Senate Bill 382, the city now has no say outside of the city limits unless a developer requests city services like sewer and water. 

The previous proposed projects east of the river all requested city sewer service, as the density of housing couldn’t be supported without it.

City Council in turn, approved the doughnut agreement at Monday night’s meeting, noting the county also agrees to oversee subdivisions that were previously approved by the city within the doughnut.