‘The people of Park County will drive planning efforts’

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


Like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz who needs a brain, the Planning Board is also missing a very important part, albeit in their planning process. In Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), the County refers to Goal 16 of the Park County Growth Policy as the justification for drafting the proposed Conflict Mitigation Zoning Regulations (CMZR). What has been ignored is the most critical action item in the Growth Policy. The Planning Board may have reviewed “current mechanisms” (Action 16.2.1) and evaluated “alternative approaches” (Action 16.2.2), but neither they nor the Commissioners have developed and adopted a “future land use map” (Action 16.3.3).

A land use map would identify the locations where the various types of development are permitted (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.) and not permitted (parks, open space, wildlife habitats/corridors, etc.) throughout the County. This map is the key first step since it serves as the foundation for the development of zoning regulations.

Zoning is a tool to implement a land use plan or map. Zoning districts are created for each land use category and identify the permitted and conditionally permitted uses as well as the development standards within each of these districts. Conditional use permits are only required for those uses that would be allowed in the district but may not be compatible at every location or under every circumstance.

An example may be a bar or liquor store that would otherwise abut a school or park.

The CMZR require a conditional use permit for every use except agricultural and limited residential uses and are the only permitted uses listed. In my many years as a planner, I have never seen zoning regulations implemented in such a prohibitive way. As a result, these draft regulations cast a broad net with significant consequences.

For example: The County’s FAQ states that Home Occupations and remote work is “freely” permitted. Clearly not the case when a home occupation as defined excludes home based businesses that have a commercial business license, on premise sales or the public (customers) at the property.

Salons, dog groomers, real estate professionals, contractors, commercial truck drivers, hunting and fishing guides, crafters, and bakers are among many others that would be prohibited from working from home without a conditional use permit.

The only permitted residential use is a maximum of three dwelling units on a single tract whether detached or attached. They could all be of one type or any combination of a home, mobile home and/or manufactured home. This would exclude any multifamily complex, guest lodge or employee housing of more than three units without first obtaining a conditional use permit.

An agricultural landowner who runs an outfitting business to supplement their income could not expand, or reopen after closing for a season, unless a conditional use permit was obtained.

If a landowner has a building that has been vacant for more than a year any preexisting grandfathered nonconforming use would have expired. A new business moving into the building would need a conditional use permit.

If there was a change in occupancy of an existing building, such as a retail store converting to a restaurant, a conditional use permit would be required.

It is also disingenuous to imply that the CMZR protect agricultural uses since they are listed as a permitted use when agricultural activities are already permitted and protected from zoning and nuisance ordinances (MCA 76-2-901 thru 903).

However, if the agricultural definition remains it ought to at least be consistent with the state’s definition since it does not include timber harvesting, farm markets and many other agricultural activities.

Unless the County Commissioners want to abdicate their authority and allow the zoning administrator and Board of Adjustments to control all growth and development in Park County, they need to stop this effort and direct the Planning Board to get back to the business of planning and not regulating. And only when there can be open, accessible, and timely public meetings recognizing, as the guiding principle states, “the people of Park County will drive planning efforts.”

Timothy A. Miller