Commissioners modify, reverse and remand conditions on Big Sky Cheese from zoning board permit approval

County Commissioners voted during a special meeting on Nov. 21 to modify four, reverse four and remand one of the conditions imposed by the county Zoning Board of Adjustment in their approval of Big Sky Cheese’s special use permit.

The ZBOA approved the permit on Aug. 28 with 17 conditions.

Big Sky Cheese files appeal over some of ZBOA’s conditions on permit approval

On Sept. 26, Big Sky Cheese filed an appeal to the county commission taking issue with nine of those conditions.

County ZBOA approves Big Sky Cheese permit, with conditions

Under state law, the applicant can appeal to the commission or district court if they find the decision is in part, or wholly, illegal based on the public record and information available at the time the ZBOA made its decision.

Among the conditions Friesen’s team is contesting is a requirement to obtain water rights from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and place meters on wells and submit quarterly reports to the planning department and obtain water rights if usage exceeds the exempt well levels provided by DNRC.

Big Sky Cheese on Aug. 28 county zoning board agenda

According the the petition submitted by Friesen’s legal team, exempt wells don’t obtain water rights but are subject to a notice of completion.

The county ZBOA lacks “the authority to supplement or deviate from DNRC rules and regulations. Further, as a practical matter, the planning department is not equipped to monitor quarterly well usage reports and lacks the authority to intervene in the event of any deviations, which are solely for DNRC to enforce.”

Commissioner Jane Weber said during the Nov. 21 meeting that there is obvious public concern over water usage with the project, but “it’s not something we have the authority over at the county.”

Instead, that authority lies with DNRC, she said, and reporting to the county planning department is unnecessary since any reports from DNRC would already be public information.

Commissioners modified that condition to require Big Sky Cheese to comply with and obtain the necessary permits for water.

Commissioner Jim Larson expressed concern that without monitoring, Big Sky Cheese might use more water and their wells would become those requiring permits. Larson said he had more questions, but Commissioner Joe Briggs said, “we cannot add to the record. This is not a fact finding journey.”

The ZBOA included a condition requiring Big Sky Cheese to obtain approval from the City-County Health Department and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for a new public water supply/water water system and requested that DEQ consider requirements for the wastewater ponds to be lined, as well as requiring the applicant to provide quarterly reports to the planning department.

In their appeal, the Big Sky Cheese team writes that they appreciate and understand the need for permits and they’ll abide by requirements for public water supply and wastewater systems.

Commissioners said reporting to planning was unnecessary since information would already be reported to DEQ and if the information would be reported to a county department, it should go to CCHD.

Commissioners modified the condition to require Big Sky Cheese to get necessary approvals from DEQ and CCHD and requests that DEQ consider a requirement for the applicant to line the ponds.

The ZBOA included a condition limiting operating hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., which commissioners remanded back to the board for further discussion since they weren’t clear on whether deliveries or cleaning was included in operation or why the hours had been set as they were.

The ZBOA included a condition requiring all cheese manufacturing process activities to be kept inside a fully enclosed building and not be visible to the general public, with air from the internal cheese manufacturing process being treated and filtered to address other concerns. The condition required Big Sky Cheese to design and adopt odor control measures.

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The condition is too vague for Big Sky Cheese to comply or for county planning to know when the condition has been met, according to the appeal.

Commissioners said they understood the concern about odors but it was inappropriate for the county to define how odors are treated and that it’s not likely feasible to do business completely indoors.

Commissioners modified the condition to require Big Sky Cheese to a install a filtered exhaust system and any outdoor activities must comply with activities allowed in the agricultural district.

Commissioners reversed conditions requiring a road easement, prohibiting livestock on site, requiring a paved road, and requiring a secondary emergency access.

They modified a condition related to a fire suppression system.

The full written decision from the commissioners is available here.