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Cascade County holds hearing on proposed zoning changes

Cascade County is working on a major overhaul of zoning regulations.

On February 19, they held the first public hearing to review the draft proposal. The plan eliminates the County’s agricultural zoning designation and splits it into Mixed-Use 20 and Mixed Use 40 (MU-20, MU-40) districts. Areas zoned MU-20 would have a minimum lot size of 20 acres while MU-40 would have a minimum lot size of 40 acres.

Documents from planning staff, who wrote the proposed changes, state the MU-20 district better fits development patterns of more residential areas along transportation corridors. It would allow new land uses with a Special Use Permit (SUP), not allowed in agricultural zones, including restaurants, micro-breweries, and other commercial uses that provide services to seasonal and year-round tourists.

The MU-40 district is designed to protect larger areas of agricultural land while removing the SUP process for some uses, including value-added agricultural commodity processing facilities, wildgame processing facilities, agricultural commodity storage facilities, and other uses.

It also removes some land uses from MU-40 areas including tourist homes and bed and breakfast operations.

According to Planning Department documents, “This 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.”

The revisions also adjust some county definitions of medical marijuana facilities and restricts them to areas zoned as Industrial 2 (I2).

Cascade Planning Board Chair Elliot Merja said changing regulations are important for changing needs.

“It’s a living document in the first place, technology changes, the society changes, there’s needs for different things and you have to be willing to try and develop rules and regulations that protect the public and then also allow for industry to be moving on.”

During public comment, many people expressed confusion with the proposed changes and what they were meant to accomplish. Concerns from the public included how the changes would impact medical marijuana facilities, agricultural processing facilities and tourist or rental properties.

A public comment by Cascade County resident Richard Hopkins echoed the frustration of many.

“There ought to be some way to summarize this and I guess I would challenge the staff or the board, if you cannot do that you do not understand your own regulations. All you understand are little pieces. Somebody needs to be able to explain the entire thing,” said Hopkins, whose comments were met with applause by the crowded meeting.

Merja said he and other board members are still working to understand the finer points of the proposed changes. He also strongly encouraged the public to stay active on the issue.

“The public needs to put in some formal written input, they can keep doing that through the County Planning Department. There is forms online, there’s forms at the County planning Department,” said Merja.

The next hearing will be in March, but has not been scheduled.

To view the Agricultural District Zoning Change Justification, you can follow this link.

To view the full zoning proposal, follow this link.

-Reported by Joe Huisinga/MTN News

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