Wednesday, June 07, 2023

County considers growth plan

| December 1, 2005 11:00 PM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Reporter

Lincoln County officials met with a Whitefish-based consultant Wednesday as a first step toward developing a county-wide growth plan.

Planning has long been a controversial subject in Lincoln County, Commissioner Marianne Roose told Kate McMahon. Formerly of Great Falls, McMahon has worked on a number of planning projects across Montana over the past decade, including growth plans for Teton and Chouteau counties. She was invited by the commissioners to offer guidance on the process of drawing up a similar plan for Lincoln County.

Years ago, the county had a planning board as well as three separate city-county boards for Libby, Troy and Eureka, said county planner Ken Peterson. The county eventually "backed out" of its attempts to draft a comprehensive plan in the face of public opposition, he said.

"The property rights issue was on everybody's minds," Peterson said. "'You're not going to tell me what to do with my land.'"

That attitude is changing as people see large tracts of Plum Creek Timber Co. lands, once open to the public for recreation, being sold off and subdivided, said Commissioner John Konzen.

"I think the timing is right in Lincoln County," he said. "It wasn't right even six years ago. But I think the mood has changed."

Things started changing about 10 years ago in the Eureka area, Roose said. Land is being bought up by developers and used for "elite residences," with Eureka turning into "a bedroom community" for Flathead County, she said.

"People that have lived there all their lives are seeing the growth and they're seeing the values that they treasure going away," Roose said.

Large subdivisions far from Libby, Troy and Eureka have the potential to create their own communities, Peterson said. The increased development is placing new stress on volunteer emergency services like ambulance units and fire departments, Roose said.

The first step for the county to take is to form a planning board, McMahon said. The board can begin collecting data and laying the groundwork for development of a plan, she said. She provided a copy of Teton County's plan as an example of the type of information to be gathered.

The board should be in place prior to conducting surveys and public meetings on the planning issue, McMahon said.

"Give yourself a minimum of a year" to develop a plan, McMahon said.

Once a growth plan is in place, the county can use it as a guide to amend subdivision regulations and, if it so chooses, to enact zoning regulations.

Roose said the commissioners will be discussing the issue with the county planning staff to decide how to proceed.