County denies expansion of medical marijuana into more zoning districts

After nearly two years since they were initially proposed, county officials have not yet completed their decision making progress on changes to the county zoning regulations.

Commissioners voted 2-1 to deny the planning board’s recommendation from May 2019 that would have allowed medical marijuana within industrial, commercial and agricultural zoning districts, as well as the proposed Mixed-Use 20 district.

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Currently, medical marijuana is allowed in the county in the I-2 heave industrial 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.

Commissioners voted to reduce the distance requirement from 1,000 to 500 feet, but to retain the current rule that limits medical marijuana to only the I-2 zoning district. The current medical marijuana rules were adopted by the county in 2012.

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Commissioner Joe Briggs said he was concerned expanding the zoning districts where medical marijuana facilities were allowed would create a situation in which those facilities would be allowed in residential areas. There are multiple areas in the county where it’s zoned commercial, such as outside the Malmstrom Air Force Base gate, or mixed use, such as Ulm, Vaughn, Simms and Fort Shaw, where there are residential areas.

Briggs said that is residents wanted to expand areas where medical marijuana would be allowed, they should ask the city, which prohibits it entirely.

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Commissioner Jane Weber suggested allowing medical marijuana in light industrial areas as well, but the other two commissioners objected.

Commissioner Jim Larson said that with recreational marijuana coming down the pick, the county should keep it in I-2 districts.

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He said he’d been vocal about maintaining the status quo since he was elected and “I have no reason to change my mind at this point.”

Commissioners voted to establish the Mixed Use 20 district, which had been recommended by the planning board in September 2019.

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

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.

County zoning regulations pushed to at least September

County staff had initially proposed 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.

Staff changed their recommendation earlier this month, based on significant public concern, to not include the MU40 district.

Based on the planning board’s recommendation, areas that aren’t pulled into the MU20 district would remain under the agricultural zoning regulations with some modifications.

The MU-40 district would have applied 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 also adopted a wide variety of definition changes as proposed by county staff, with the exception of proposed definitions for distilleries and microbreweries.

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The definitions were included in the county staff’s initial draft of changes released publicly in January 2019 and no questions had been raised in public meetings regarding those definitions until the Nov. 18 commission meeting.

Commissioners had held four work sessions on the proposed changes and met Nov. 12 to consider changes, but tabled most to another special meeting on Nov. 18. They then tabled some proposed changes, including the definitions of distilleries and microbreweries, to another meeting on Nov. 24.

County resumes discussions on proposed changes to zoning regulations

Commissioners said during the Nov. 18 meeting that they wanted more information on whether those establishments are allowed to sell food or other beverages. They said they wanted to discuss the definitions with the Cascade County City-County Health Department before finalizing their decision.

Once they’ve made decisions on all the proposed changes, commissioners will 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.

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.

More information on the proposed changes is available here.