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County approves Helena Valley zoning regulations, advisory panel
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County approves Helena Valley zoning regulations, advisory panel

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The Lewis and Clark Board of County Commissioners on Thursday approved resolutions enacting Helena Valley zoning regulations and establishing a "zoning advisory panel" to potentially tweak the newly minted regulations.

The often contentious county government-initiated zoning regulations saw initial approval on Oct. 6, and after a 30-day protest period that saw the submission of three letters written by residents unhappy with the proposal, county staff recommended approval. The regulations were passed on a 3-0 vote.

"This has been an exhaustive process, a process that we took very seriously," County Commissioner Andy Hunthausen said just prior to the vote, citing extensive public comment and community input. "I think we've presented something that is responsible and responsive to our growth policy."

The approved regulations can be found on the county's website.

The county commission also approved the formation of what it is calling a "zoning advisory panel" made up of county residents and stakeholders such as developers. The commission committed up to $100,000 to fund the panel's efforts.

The panel will look to find a compromise on a hotly debated 10-acre lot size minimum provision within the zoning regulations. That county agreed to delay implementation of that particular provision until June 2022 to allow the panel time to consider alternatives.

Lewis and Clark County's Director of Community Development and Planning Peter Italiano said during Thursday's meeting that the panel will also assist staff crafting future regulations for the Helena Valley Planning Area's urban mixed use and suburban residential mixed use districts.

Staff recommended the inclusion of 12 voting members on the panel.

"Staff settled on no more than 12; trying to keep it manageable," Italiano said. "We want a group that's efficient and can perform its task within the allocated time."

Italiano said the county would like to see a number of ad hoc members.

"We also believe that there are lots of cohorts that need to be involved beyond those 12," he said. "Those folks can come onto the panel on an as-needed basis for a particular, targeted discussion..."

Italiano said about three or four members of his staff will be involved in the panel in a non-voting capacity.

The commission expects the panel to wrap up its deliberations by January 2022 to give county staff time to draft any amendments posed by the panel.

"I like what's in the document here in terms of how we would select members," Hunthausen said. "We know what categories they're from, and then we would rely on actual folks in the community to essentially submit an application and then select from that group."

Commission Chairwoman Susan Good Geise said she would like to see the panel remain in place permanently because there will be future changes to the regulations.

"As we have said from the beginning, zoning is not one and done. It is an iterative process," Geise said. "To have consistent buy-in in an organized manner will do us a lot of good."

The resolution creating the panel was approved on a 3-0 vote.

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Local Government and Crime Reporter

Nolan Lister is a reporter at the Helena Independent Record with an emphasis on local government and crime.

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