Wednesday, April 20, 2005

County stops work at East Fork site

Neighbor appealing excavation of large hillside

Express Staff Writer

Work on a house project along East Fork Road has been stopped, after a neighbor contended the site should be protected by Blaine County's Mountain Overlay District regulations. Express photo

Blaine County Commissioners have put a stay on further construction at a property along East Fork Road where the owner has denuded a large area of hillside to build a driveway to his proposed home site.

The stay was ordered April 13 pending a ruling by the commissioners on a neighbor's appeal that the property was unlawfully excluded from the county's Mountain Overlay District.

The property at 107 East Fork Rd. contains a steep slope rising from the road to a more level area that contains the proposed home site. In July, property owner Michael Rollins obtained a ruling from the county planning department excluding his lot from the Mountain Overlay District on the grounds that the building site is on a "bench slope," rather than on a hillside.

Though he has not yet received a building permit for his house, Rollins received a permit on April 5 to build a retaining wall along the building site and portions of an access road. The following day, neighbor Brian Poster filed an appeal to the planning department's ruling.

The Mountain Overlay District covers no designated area, but is determined on a case-by-case basis and applies to all properties on hillside of more than a 25 percent slope, and more than 15 percent slope if visible from Highway 75. (A 100 percent slope is 45 degrees.) Before a building can be constructed within the district, the property owner must obtain a site alteration permit, following a public hearing at which neighbors and other people can testify. Construction within the district is permitted only when a property owner can show that no non-hillside site exists on the property.

One of the stated purposes of the district is "to prevent scarring of hillsides and mountains made by cuts and fills and/or by access roads to hillside and mountainous areas."

"The county created the MO District because it desired to eliminate or minimize the kind of scarring that has occurred on the Rollins lot," attorney Fritz Haemmerle stated in a brief accompanying Poster's appeal. "Rollins has denuded the natural vegetation from (his) hillside, a hillside that is clearly visible to everyone driving East Fork Road, dozens of neighboring properties in East Fork, and to people driving Highway 75."

Haemmerle argued that the district's provisions contain no exemptions for "bench slopes." His brief quotes a portion of the ordinance stating that "...(t)he district is not intended to create a patchwork that excludes saddles, ridges, knolls, summits, or pockets or islands of flatter land between and including the applicable lowest hillside slopes and the summit of the hillside, but rather is intended to include all such areas."

The Rollins property is just west of the proposed four-lot NaKaOi Subdivision, which the Planning and Zoning Commission determined to be in the Mountain Overlay Zone.

A hearing on Poster's appeal has not yet been placed on the county commissioners' agenda.

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