Helena City-County Building

Helena City-County Building

Thom Bridge, Independent Record

Despite some concerns from audience members, the Lewis and Clark County Commission agreed at a meeting Tuesday to allow a tract of land near Helena to be used for 14 homes.

Kristopher Smith, who owns the land, proposed the project for slightly more than 20 acres located about six miles north of Helena and south of Brookings road and west of Applegate Drive.

The commission’s approval is conditional and contains requirements pertaining to things such as access to the property, weed management, the need for a trailer/mobile home license if two or more are used for residences, signage for addressing purposes and state sanitation in subdivision review if more than a single mobile home is installed on the property.

The wastewater treatment systems will also be subject to county regulations, according to the staff report on the project.

This proposal is not a subdivision in which land is divided into lots that are owned by those who purchase them. Instead, Smith’s project uses a 2013 state law regulating buildings for lease or rent.

As the bill that became law on buildings for lease or rent was working its way through the Legislature, county officials had concerns and said they wanted a greater ability to address potential adverse effects from projects.

Commissioner Andy Hunthausen on Tuesday noted the county’s concern with the law as he sought to explain to members of the audience why their concerns couldn’t be addressed regarding additional traffic and whether enough groundwater existed to supply their homes as well as new ones.

The law on buildings for lease or rent, he said, somewhat limited the ability for county review.

The commission confirmed with a member of the county attorney’s office that adequacy of water was not a factor that could be considered when reviewing a developer’s proposal.

It’s the commission’s sworn task to apply the law as it was written, Commission Chairwoman Susan Good Geise note, adding “our hands are tied here. It’s a sad fact.”

County staff also spoke to property owners’ worries that septic tank wastewater from homes that will be built or placed at Smith’s project, Meadowlark Rentals, would taint existing wells or add to wastewater produced from septic tanks that serve existing homes.

The interaction of wastewater with groundwater generally doesn’t extend beyond the property line, said Greg McNally, a county planner.

Review of septic systems ensures that the “mixing zone” where wastewater and groundwater meet doesn’t interact with wells serving other homes or the mixing zones for septic systems on other properties, he added.

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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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