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County Commissioners postpone action on zoning regulations near Fort Harrison

Posted at 4:05 PM, Nov 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-27 18:05:25-05

HELENA – Lewis and Clark County is looking at alternatives to a proposed zoning plan for residents living near Fort Harrison.

It’s the latest development in an ongoing debate on whether to create a Military Affected Area to minimize conflicts between military operations and the people who live near Fort Harrison.

At Tuesday’s meeting, one of eight so far on the topic, commissioners appeared split over how to proceed with the zoning changes. The conversation ended with an agreement to modify the proposed zoning plan and present the revised draft proposal to the commission next week.

That decision was reached after commissioners heard more public comment in opposition to implementing the zoning changes.

“All of us in that area that are not happy with it are getting beat down like we’re against the military,” Shaun Williams of Helena, said. “I want to do what I want to do with my property. I don’t care what you do with your side of the fence. Leave my side of the fence alone.”

The alternative draft eliminates the Military Affected Area designation, which is a state law and instead relies on county zoning regulations.

The commission will consider the revised draft and take more public comment at the regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 6.

-Reported by Jacob Fuhrer/MTN News

(November 16, 2018) Lewis & Clark County leaders again heard public testimony Thursday on proposed new zoning rules for the area around Fort Harrison.

The county commission is considering creating a “Military Affected Area,” known as the Fort Harrison Compatibility Area, and adding two special zoning districts, the Rural Growth Area and the Urban Growth Area. The new regulations would apply to about 20,700 acres, mostly within one mile of the fort boundary.

Leaders say the changes would minimize any future conflicts between military operations and the people in the surrounding area. But many property owners in the area have raised concerns about the proposals, arguing they aren’t necessary and could threaten their property values.

Creating the Military Affected Area would prohibit building multi-family housing or landfills, and it would create height and lighting restrictions to reduce impacts on military airplanes. The Rural Growth Area and Urban Growth Area zoning would limit parcels to a minimum size of ten acres, except in “cluster developments” that include undeveloped open space or resource uses.

Gaylynn Flocchini, who owns several properties in the area, said the new requirements would put owners at an unfair disadvantage when putting their land on the market.

“Who do you think a buyer would prefer: one in a military zone with cumbersome regulations, or one right next to it without these regulations?” she asked. “The local government is using its authority and power to do what the military should be paying for: taking our value and giving it away, using land use authority to benefit one landowner – the fort.”

Candace West said the area she lives in has already been zoned to meet most of the proposed new requirements. She said the only additional regulation would be on lighting, and she doesn’t believe that rule is necessary.

“The actual incompatible nature is coming from the fort – that’s where the helicopters are; that’s where the lights are,” she said. “Regulating those issues on private property isn’t of benefit to anyone, and it would resolve the incompatibility issues.”

The Military Affected Area proposal developed from a joint land use study by Fort Harrison, Lewis and Clark County, Broadwater County, Helena and Townsend. The study was completed in 2014, and the county incorporated it into its growth policy in 2017. The next step was to implement the study’s recommendations.

Commissioners said they have held at least seven public hearings on these proposals over the last two years. They said they’ve listened to many of the concerns residents brought up, and they’ve tried to adjust the plan to address some of them.

“We obviously have not made a decision in the last year and a half, because there’s been a lot of things brought up,” said Commissioner Andy Hunthausen. “We want to make sure that we turn over every rock and look at every angle before we make a decision, so we’re going to continue to do that.”

Commissioners decided to postpone any decision on the regulations, because Commissioner Jim McCormick and county legal counsel were not able to attend the hearing. They will next consider the proposals at their meeting on Tuesday, November 27.

-Reported by Jonathon Ambarian/MTN News