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Opposition to vintage market expected

April 2, 2019 GMT

A large turnout is expected at tonight’s Flathead County Board of Adjustment public hearing as the board considers an administrative conditional-use permit that would allow J&J Ranch near Whitefish to host a one-day vintage market - a sizable event that has drawn numerous complaints from nearby residents.

The request for the permit was submitted by The Market Beautiful on behalf of J&J Ranch, which is located about a half-mile east of Whitefish city limits at 1875 Voerman Road. According to the Planning Office staff report, the July 6 event would consist of 45 vendors and there will be an anticipated 1,700 to 2,000 attendees.

The volume of comments determined The Market Beautiful’s application has “issues that could not be mitigated via conditions of approval and therefore go to the Board of Adjustment for review and approval,” the report said.

Flathead County Planning Director Mark Mussman said letters of opposition help the county administer various zoning regulations.

“Our code enforcement is all complaint-driven,” Mussman said. “We receive complaints and we essentially turn it into a file number and then we investigate every single one of them.”

According to the staff report, there were 14 written comments regarding the proposed vintage market event that were submitted within the allotted comment period. All but one comment were in opposition.

Most opponents pointed to limited access problems with rural two-lane roads surrounding the property, with one letter writer asking, “What is the logic in trying to shoehorn a big venue into our rural setting where there is limited access on the rural roads.”

Both Voerman and Dillon roads, which the public would use to access the event, are rural and lack road shoulder room. Some said the event would disrupt their lifestyle, saying “instead of enjoying our quiet country setting, we can expect increased noise and traffic.”

Others argued there are other venues in the Flathead already suited to events such as these, such as the Flathead County Fairgrounds.

The area is zoned agricultural with a 20-acre minimum lot size, and is part of the Southeast Rural Whitefish Zoning District. According to the county’s definition, AG-20 is “a district to protect and preserve agricultural land for the performance of a wide range of agricultural functions. It is intended to control the scatter intrusion of uses not compatible with an agricultural environment, including, but not limited to, residential development.”

Mussman said the primary purpose of all three of the county’s agricultural zones is to eliminate the potential of big developments moving into the area.

“The intrusions that really aren’t compatible with agricultural environments are residential developments. The zones are there to prevent that,” Mussman said.

J&J Ranch, which has hosted multiple events over the past few years, is a point of frustration for many within the surrounding Whitefish community.

The Market Beautiful was held at the property once before in July 2018, despite the owners not applying for a conditional-use permit.

“Technically, yes, that event was conducted last year without the appropriate land-use permits,” Mussman said. “One-time or weekend events that occur on an annual basis, and similar situations, the property owners or the sponsors and organizers have to apply for an ACUP (administrative conditional-use permit) for a temporary event.”

According to county regulations, if no written opposition is received for an application and the project meets all review criteria, the zoning administrator (Mussman) will issue a grant of administrative conditional-use permit, with or without conditions. If written opposition is received and the concerns are unable to be addressed by the applicant or through appropriate conditions, the administrative conditional use permit request is scheduled for the next available Board of Adjustment meeting.

If the administrative conditional-use permit is denied by the zoning administrator, the applicant has the option to appeal the decision.

Mussman said he recalls some complaints being submitted after the event took place, over the weekend itself and “maybe a few” that came in right before the event happened. However, he said the letters of opposition were not submitted in time for county officials to do anything about the event.

Owners of the ranch were also granted a conditional-use permit in August 2018 that allowed the ranch to host multiple events including “glamping” (glamorous camping) parties and farm-to-table meals, and most notably, gave the ranch the green light to organize two concerts a year. Come July, the ranch will host the Under the Big Sky music festival - a two-day event for which property owner Johnny Shockey hopes to sell 10,000 tickets.

Mussman said some of the challenges of granting permits for events such as The Market Beautiful and others, is figuring out where to draw the line on which ones are considered “agricultural” in nature.

The ranch also hosts an annual skijoring event, for which Mussman said he has not received community complaints.

He continued, posing the question of why an event such as The Market Beautiful couldn’t be considered “agricultural” in nature.

“We determined that particular event [skijoring] is permitted because it is similar to a rodeo in a way and acts as an arena,” Mussman said. “So if The Market Beautiful is concentrated on farmhouse merchandise, is that any different from the agricultural classification for skijoring?”

The public hearing starts at 6 p.m. tonight in the South Campus Building, 40 11th St. W. in Kalispell.

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com