Cascade County continuing review of proposed changes to zoning regulations

The Cascade County planning board conducted the first public hearing in what will be a multi-month process to update the county zoning regulations.

At least 50 people attended the meeting and expressed frustration with the meeting time, the cramped room, the limited information available on the reasons for the changes, the limited time residents had to review the proposed changes before the hearing and the process itself.

County hearing on proposed zoning changes is Feb. 19

Much of the process is dictated by state law and Elliot Merja, board chair, thanked residents for the written comments that had already been submitted.

Merja asked the members of the public in the audience how many had seen any of the proposed changes, which were posted on the county website in January.

County proposing changes to zoning regulations

Maybe half the audience members raised their hands but several said they had trouble opening the files, some of which are thousands of pages long.

Merja said the board was not voting on any of the proposed zoning changes during the hearing and that Tuesday’s hearing was the first step in a lengthy public review process.

County approves intent to change allowable uses with special use permit in mixed use areas, considering changes to subdivision regulations

A number of people submitted written comments in advance or asked during the meeting that the board consider holding a meeting on the proposed zoning changes in the evening so more people could attend.

Some asked that the hearing be postponed so the public had more time to review the proposed changes and formulate opinions.

Cascade County zoning regulations continue to evolve since 2005 creation

Merja and staff said the hearing was a chance to walk through the proposed changes and take public comment on the draft so that they could come back with more substantive discussion during a yet to be scheduled March planning board meeting, when the board might take action on the proposed changes.

A public comment the planning board took note of was that that the proposed regulations lacked a definition for “productive use,” which is a phrase used throughout a proposed new zoning district.

The planning board is advisory and any zoning changes have to be approved by the County Commission following a public process specifically laid out in state law.

On Tuesday, county planning staff read through their list of proposed changes section by section.

A major change proposed by planning staff is to split the current agricultural district into two new mixed use districts.

The proposed new districts are MU-20 for parcels of at least 20 acres that are largely residential areas located along major transportation corridors, according to staff. The proposed MU-20 district would allow conventional mixed uses that are not currently allowed in the agricultural districts, according to staff. That would include restaurants, micro-breweries and other commercial uses that provide services to tourists and residents, but those uses would be subject to special use permits.

The MU-40 district would apply to parcels of at least 40 acres and “protects productive land use areas from types of development driven by demand for amenity destinations which have infringed upon ranching and farming areas throughout the county and the state,” according to a planning staff justification for the proposed changes.

The proposed MU-40 district would include value-added agricultural commodity processing facilities, wildgame processing facilities, agricultural commodity storage facilities as allowable uses. Slaughterhouses would be permitted in the MU-40 district, but would still require a special use permit, according to the proposed changes.

Julie Knight asked if staff had or would consider expanding medical marijuana dispensaries as allowable uses in more zoning districts than I-2 heavy industrial. She presented the board with a stack of written comments from residents who wanted that use allowed in more zoning districts.

There’s been considerable internal staff discussions for months, according to emails made public as part of the zoning discussions, regarding the county’s regulations related to medical marijuana. County staff have also been talking to state officials to get clarification and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Richard Hopkins suggested that the staff or the planning board explain the changes and their necessity so the public could better understand the proposal.

“Somebody needs to be able to explain the entire thing,” he said.

The zoning regulations first adopted in 2005 when the city and county split planning departments. The regulations were updated in 2018, 2017, 2016, 2012, 2009 and 2007, according to county records.