COVID-19 delays county zoning meeting on distillery permit
The Cascade County planning department, based on guidance from the health department, state and federal agencies, has postponed the Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing on the Silver Falls Distillery special use permit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hearing was scheduled for March 19, after the ZBOA voted in February to delay a decision on the permit.
A new meeting date for the distillery permit has not yet been scheduled and the county will need to again comply with legal notice requirements.
“Future meetings are currently planned to continue as scheduled, however the Planning Department will monitor new developments closely and coordinate with the boards we advise to ensure the health and safety of the public, the boards, and staff are appropriately maintained. The Planning Department is currently open as normal, and staff will continue to maintain and schedule appointments and walk-ins as long as the situation reasonably allows,” according to planning staff.
The planning department can be reached at 406-454-6905 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The proposed distillery is within the proposed Madison Food Park complex.
In February, the board again struggled to follow public meeting process and during a break discussed how they wanted to proceed with their meeting until a member of the public shouted at them that they needed to have their discussion publicly.
The board members initially attempted to extend public comment by two weeks but limiting it to offering suggestions on mitigating the concerns raised in public comments already submitted.
After nearly an hour of figuring out the motion and how the board wanted to proceed, they ended up simply directing staff to fill out a spreadsheet addressing whether a concern was relevant to the project, under the jurisdiction of the board to consider and what mitigation options might be available to the board.
They then voted unanimously to table their decision to the next meeting, which had not been scheduled at the time.
According to the special use permit that was submitted to county planning in December, Madison Food Park intends to develop a facility that will be leased to and operated by Silver Falls Distillery for the distillation, bottling/packaging, and storage of liquors/spirits.
During the meeting, representatives of the applicant said the owners of Silver Falls Distillery would likely be different than those of Madison Food Park.
Initially, the facility would operate as a bottling plant and eventually grow into distilling on site.
Asked about the delay in distilling, Edward Friesen, the principal of Madison Food Park, said his company is currently distilling spirits in Canada and Mexico that are ready for bottling and that it would take about three years to begin distilling on site since they will have to locally grow the specific grains they want to use in their spirits.
If the county ZBOA were to approve the special use permit with conditions, the county planning office would issue a letter of conditional approval but would not issue the actual permit until all of the conditions were met.
County staff had recommended 15 conditions for the permit in their report to the board, which is available in full on the county website.
Earlier this month, the City Commission voted to ask the state and Cascade County to conduct comprehensive studies of the proposed Madison Food Park complex.
County officials have said their existing process considers each component of the project as an application is considered and would consider the additional impacts in context of projects already approved. The commission doesn’t have authority over special use permits, that authority is under the ZBOA.
City Commissioners passed a resolution asking the state to study the project under the Montana Environmental Policy Act, but lawyers for the Montana League of Cities and Towns and the Montana Association of Counties have said that MEPA doesn’t apply to action by local governments.
State law states that MEPA applies to “state sponsored projects” and that means:
(i) a project, program, or activity initiated and directly undertaken by a state agency;
(ii) except as provided in subsection (8)(b)(i), a project or activity supported through a contract, grant, subsidy, loan, or other form of funding assistance from a state agency, either singly or in combination with one or more other state agencies; or
(iii) except as provided in subsection (8)(b)(i), a project or activity authorized by a state agency acting in a land management capacity for a lease, easement, license, or other authorization to act.
(b) The term does not include:
(i) a project or activity undertaken by a private entity that is made possible by the issuance of permits, licenses, leases, easements, grants, loans, or other authorizations to act by the:
(A) department of environmental quality pursuant to Titles 75, 76, or 82;
(B) department of fish, wildlife, and parks pursuant to Title 87, chapter 4, part 4;
(C) board of oil and gas conservation pursuant to Title 82, chapter 11; or
(D) department of natural resources and conservation or the board of land commissioners pursuant to Titles 76, 77, 82, and 85; or
(ii) a project or activity involving the issuance of a permit, license, certificate, or other entitlement for permission to act by another agency acting in a regulatory capacity, either singly or in combination with other state agencies.
For more background on the Madison Food Park proposal, see the links below: