The lines have been drawn around what could become a target area for interim zoning of gravel mining, and county officials now will move to the next step — gathering input on draft zoning regulations.
Gallatin County commission on Wednesday voted 2-1 to draw a boundary line encompassing the area subject to zoning, including the Belgrade and Four Corners planning jurisdictions.
Emergency interim zoning of gravel pits in the Belgrade planning jurisdiction went before the commission after residents of the area, concerned about two proposed gravel pits along East Cameron Bridge and Alaska South roads, requested the measure.
Last month, commissioners asked planning staff to design three separate plans — one affecting the immediate area in question, one encompassing the entire Belgrade planning jurisdiction and the third taking in the entire county.
On Wednesday the board settled on Option B — the 4.5-mile “doughnut” surrounding Belgrade. But in a last-minute motion, they also included the Four Corners Neighborhood Zoning Jurisdiction in the boundary.
Boundaries needed to be laid out before an interim zoning ordinance could be written, County Planning Director Greg Sullivan said.
“Right now, we don’t know what to put in there,” he told the board.
After hours of public comment on both sides of the issue, County Commissioner Bill Murdock made the motion not only to include the Belgrade planning jurisdiction but also the Four Corners planning area.
Murdock questioned the legality of including the entire county in the boundary and said the neighborhood planning process would hold up in the courtroom.
“We are walking a fine line here as to what constitutes an emergency. That’s why I couldn’t go countywide,” he said Thursday.
Murdock said he wanted to include the Four Corners area because the overall scope of both planning jurisdictions are similar, in that they share the same roadways, availability of gravel and are filling up with houses.
If neighborhood plans in Gallatin Gateway and Churchill-Amsterdam were as far along as Four Corners, he would have sought to include them as well, he said.
“I guess where I’m headed now is if they have a legally defined boundary which clearly states that they have gone through a public process with lots of input and exposure to say, ‘This is how we want to shape our community’, then I’m going to help them out,” he said.
County Commissioner Joe Skinner voted in favor of the measure but was quick to point out his vote does not refute his belief that the entire county should be included. Unless the the boundary stretches countywide, the gravel issue will crop up elsewhere, he said.
Skinner said while the issue at hand — the proposed pits in the southeast portion of Belgrade’s doughnut — may not constitute as a countywide emergency, the conditional use permitting process interim zoning will create could be applied to gravel pits on a sliding scale, depending on the location. In other words, gravel operations like the Belgrade-area pits would have more restrictions than pits out in the hinterlands.
“That’s why it’s a CUP process,” he said.
County Commissioner Steve White cast the lone no vote, maintaining any emergency was largely related to increased traffic on county roads in the immediate area in question.
What makes the traffic situation in the southeast portion of the Belgrade doughnut unique, he said, is that two pits were slated to start up with anecdotal evidence of third. The area is deemed high density residential, with several established neighborhoods in place.
He said his decision was based on the fact that nearly all of the public testimony revolved around the area in question and not the entire doughnut, much less the entire county.
The Belgrade doughnut is a 4.5-mile area around the city. The Four Corners jurisdiction encompasses roughly 29 square miles and overlaps Belgrade’s jurisdiction.
“My findings comply with state law and nothing was put into the record from the north end of Belgrade,” White said. “Whatever we decide, we have to produce findings.”
But County Attorney Marty Lambert said the legal basis for emergency gravel-pit zoning is solid regardless of the locality in the county. Since the issue cropped up last year, residents expressed the same concerns over gravel pits no matter where they lived and commissioners deemed the situation an emergency during a public hearing last month.
“I don’t think there is a fine line of legality,” he said Thursday. “In my mind, I’m not seeing any difference between the homes in the Gallatin Gateway area and the homes in the Belgrade area.”
All three commissioners were in agreement that gravel pits will not be prohibited in the county, and if emergency interim zoning is adopted at a future hearing, the goal is to utilize the conditional use permitting process to regulate the mining operations.
A public hearing over the next step may take place in early May. In the meantime, a task force of county officials, residents and gravel industry representatives will meet next Wednesday to discuss possible regulations.
“We are going to look at the regulation and how it will be established under interim zoning,” Belgrade Associate Planner Heidi Jensen said.