Proposed changes to zoning regulations back on county agenda

In late October, County Commissioners had a third meeting with the county planning department to discuss proposed revisions to the county’s zoning regulations.

The first two meetings weren’t publicized and meeting noticed weren’t emailed to media or other county staff as is typically the case for commission meetings.

Only a few members of the public attended the third meeting on Oct. 30 via Zoom. A fourth commission work session was held Nov. 6 focused on the proposed zoning changes for Black Eagle.

The changes next go to the County Commission during a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 12 via Zoom. The planning department is accepting written comment through 5 p.m. Nov. 11 to be included in the board packet and public comment will also be taken at the meeting. Comments can be sent to

The changes being considered included one recommended by the county’s planning board in May 2019 that would allow medical marijuana within industrial, commercial and agricultural zoning districts, as well as the proposed Mixed-Use 20 district.

Currently, medical marijuana is allowed in the county in the I-2 district with the restriction that it can’t be within 1,000 feet of an existing residence, residential district, educational facility, worship facility, daycare or other facility where minors gather.

The proposed changes would remove definitions for dispensary and provider and adopt language consistent with the Montana Medical Marijuana Act to include registered premises and testing facilities.

Under the changes proposed by the county planning board, would expand the zoning districts where medical marijuana is allowed and would change the setback requirement to restrict them within 500 feet of and on the same street as a building used exclusively as a worship facility or educational facility. The distance must be measured in a straight line from the nearest entrance of the worship facility or educational facility to the nearest entrance of the licensee’s premises.

The county planning board also proposed adding language that restricts medical marijuana uses from those worship or educational facilities present at the time of the medical marijuana use’s application.

The County Commission will also consider changes to the agricultural zoning district.

County staff had proposed the creation of the Mixed Use 20 and Mixed Use 40 districts, which caused significant concern among members of the public.

In September 2019, the county planning board voted to recommend approval of the MU20 district, but not the MU40 district.

County staff had planned what was essentially splitting the agricultural district into two mixed use districts, the MU20 and MU40. The numbers don’t necessarily correlate to acreage of a parcel, according to staff, but instead related more to development patterns.

Staff written justification and explanation of the two districts is available here.

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.

MU-20 would remove intensive ag uses such as slaughterhouse, concentrated animal feeding operations, manufacturing, power plant to preserve commercial and less intensive uses, according to planning staff.

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 the planning staff justification for the proposed changes.

Commissioners would then pass a resolution of intent to adopt zoning regulations and publish that notice once a week for two weeks in the newspaper. For 30 days after the initial publication, the public can submit written protests. Within 30 days of the expiration of that protest period, the commissioners may adopt the zoning regulations, but if 40 percent of real property owners within the district or  if real property owners representing 50 percent of the titled property ownership whose property is taxed for agricultural purposes under MCA 15-7-202 or whose property is taxed as forest land under Title 15, chapter 44, part 1, have protested the establishment of the district or adoption of the regulations, commissioners may not adopt the resolution and a further zoning resolution may not be proposed for the district for a year, according to state law.

Based on the planning board’s recommendation, areas that aren’t pulled into the MU20 district would remain under the agricultural zoning regulations as they exist currently.

The county planning department proposed substantial changes and the board first began consideration of those changes in February 2019. The staff-initiated revisions would impact all property within the boundaries of Cascade County, except for the incorporated areas of Great Falls, Belt, Neihart and Cascade.

Planning staff are also proposing to rezone the Black Eagle area from urban residential and commercial to mixed use in an effort to “reduce the number of existing non‐conforming uses; match historical and perpetual land use patterns in the area; and allow flexibility in uses that are currently not allowed in Urban Residential zoning. Several properties in the Black Eagle area are currently used and have been historically used for commercial operations,” according to staff documents.

Information on the proposed zoning regulations is available here and more of The Electric’s previous coverage is below.

County approves intent to change zoning regulations

County considering rezoning; updated zoning regulations

County planning board meeting on zone changes related to Rainbow Dam postponed; decision on April 8 commission hearing on zoning regulation changes not yet released

County ZBOA approves special use permit for Silver Falls Distillery

COVID-19 delays county zoning meeting on distillery permit

County ZBOA delays decision on permit for distillery proposal in Madison Food Park

Application submitted for distillery, the second phase of proposed Madison Food Park

County planning board forwards zoning revisions to commission, with recommend to approve except for MU40 district

County planning board finds growth policy adequate; asks for zoning, medical marijuana amendments

County delays decision on zoning regulations; discusses meeting process, board packets

County ZBOA approves Big Sky Cheese permit, with conditions

County planning board to discuss proposed zoning changes on July 23

County spinning planning out of public works department; creating new special projects manager position

County delays decision on zoning regulations; discusses meeting process, board packets

County takes no action on zoning changes, accepting public comment through June 20

County resumes discussions on proposed changes to zoning regulations

Cascade County continuing review of proposed changes to zoning regulations

County delays growth policy review by one year

County proposing changes to zoning regulations