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County allows outdoor park zoning process to proceed

by Lake County Leader
| May 19, 2021 9:45 AM

The Lake County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday afternoon to allow planning for a proposed outdoor recreation park near Rollins to advance, against the recommendation of the county Planning Board.

Torsten and Jessica Wedel are seeking a change in zoning regulations so they can build the park on about 17 acres between Lakeside and Rollins, on the west side of U.S. 93 and just south of Goose Bay and Table Bay. The Wedels say they aim to provide family-friendly activities for both locals and tourists outside the more popular areas of the Flathead Valley.

Commissioners on Tuesday voted to “approve a resolution of intent to approve the amended language of the Upper West Shore Zoning District Sub-District C to allow for commercial uses as a conditional use.”

“This isn’t an approval of the park,” Commissioner Dave Stipe said. “This is just part of the process. People are protesting stuff that hasn’t been petitioned for yet. We have to go through the process.”

Commissioners Gale Decker and Stipe voted in favor of adopting the resolution of intent. Commissioner Bill Barron voted against it, stating concerns about highway congestion and adding that volunteer firefighters and ambulance resources already may be unable to reach areas quickly due to traffic.

The proposed amendment to the county's Upper West Shore Zoning District regulations would allow for a range of commercial outdoor recreation activities, including nature viewing, ax throwing, outdoor laser tag, miniature golf, gem mining, rope courses, zip lines, summer day camps, horseback riding, tubing hills and "mountain rides."

The amended regulations would specifically prohibit commercial swimming pools, water parks, bowling alleys, RV parks and commercial resorts.

Currently, only a few commercial activities, such as vacation rentals and bed-and-breakfast properties, are permitted in the area subject to the proposed change, known as Sub-District C.

The Lake County Planning Board voted unanimously April 14 to recommend the county deny the zoning amendment request after public comments during the meeting overwhelmingly were against the proposal.

The Wedels purchased property within Sub-District C, and claimed during Tuesday’s meeting that they were told by their Realtor that the area was already zoned for commercial uses such as they propose.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, commissioners heard approximately three hours of comments from residents of the area and others. Only a few expressed support for the proposal.

County Attorney Wally Congdon said if the commissioners adopted the resolution of intent, they could then begin a 30-day comment period open only to those who own property within the Sub-District C area of the zoning district.

“We’ve heard from 30,000 people on a petition,” Decker said. “I want to hear from the people in Sub-District C.”

The Wedels, who live in Stevensville, head the North American branch of Wiegand, a German company that manufactures slides, toboggan runs and unpowered roller coasters that many ski resorts use to attract business during the warmer months. The couple said Wiegand is not involved in their plans for the outdoor park.

Opponents have largely focused on traffic and public safety issues. That stretch of Highway 93 is considered one of the most dangerous in the state, and many have argued that adding a busy stop where people are frequently entering or exiting the highway would compound the problems.

Also, emergency response times to the area are not great. Ambulances responding to medical emergencies often are required to travel from Polson, depending on the situation. And the fire departments in nearby Rollins and Lakeside are volunteer departments.

Opponents also cited concerns over the effects on the area’s abundant wildlife, and a potential rise in trespassing and general crime the project might bring.

The Wedels have argued that neighbors' characterizations of the project are overblown, and said they have been in communication with conservation groups and the Montana Department of Transportation.

"We are not planning a theme park, waterpark, etc.," Torsten Wedel told the Daily Inter Lake in early April. "We believe that the possibilities with this text amendment would provide diversity to the lake activities and provide ease to the congested lake access points. We think diverse activities help with the overcrowding of the current popular areas."

The Wedels have yet to describe in detail the array of activities their park would offer.