Wednesday, December 15, 2010

County opens exit from mountain zoning

Commissioners provide process for land exclusion

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County landowners who feel their property does not meet the standards of the Mountain Overlay District may have a way out, due to an ordinance passed by the county on Dec. 7.

The ordinance doesn't modify the district's boundaries, but provides a process by which landowners can apply to have their property excluded from it. The exclusion would allow landowners and developers to build in areas that have been either accidentally included in the district or that do not meet its criteria.

Because of the computer-based mapping system the county uses, certain flat and accessible areas have not been open to development. The program creates a "buffer zone" around slopes greater than 25 percent, or 15 percent in the Scenic Overlay District. These buffers can cause otherwise developable land to be included in the district.

The new ordinance requires landowners and developers to prove that the land in question is not part of a hillside, or that any slope is either the result of a river bank or a man-made road cut.

Land may also qualify for appeal if it is accessible by a paved and dedicated county road, in an attempt to ensure that proper infrastructure can be created. Such infrastructure ensures emergency access to these areas in case of fire or another disaster.

While Commissioners Angenie McCleary and Larry Schoen voted for the new ordinance, Commissioner Tom Bowman voted against the change, saying that only re-mapping the zone would address his concerns.

Bowman reported at the commissioners' meeting Monday that he is undertaking such a re-mapping, using Google Earth software to draft suggested boundary modifications.

He stressed that any suggestions he might make would have to be approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission and the County Commission through a public process.

"I hope to provide a starting point," he said.

Bowman said he doesn't expect that his suggestions will be controversial.

"The intent is not to open up any areas of the county to development," he said. "This is just to correct areas of the county that have absolutely no hillside characteristics."

Katherine Wutz:

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