County P&Z mulls comprehensive plan amendments

by CHANSE WATSON
Managing Editor | September 10, 2020 11:18 PM

WALLACE — The topic of mountain and hillside development took center-stage Wednesday night at the Shoshone County Planning and Zoning Commission’s most recent meeting in Wallace.

On the agenda as the only new business item, petitioner and Wallace resident Courtney Frieh presented the commission with an application to amend the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which would add language “to establish goals and policies that promote hillside preservation and regulate development for natural and scenic resource reasons, erosion management and public safety.”

Discussion regarding hillside development has heated up in the community following a 500-acre purchase of land earlier this year, located south/southeast of Wallace. Included in this land deal with Layton Land & Timber are several undeveloped hillsides that surround the city, but reside in the county.

Concern over what the land’s new owners, Ryder Gauteraux and Charles Jones, are going to do with the property has sparked multiple letters to county officials and even the creation of a Facebook group, “Save the Hillsides.”

Despite all the hubbub surrounding the issue, Frieh stated in her presentation to the commission and in a later interview with the News-Press that her application is not directed at any one person or place.

“These amendments are not directed at the southeast (Wallace) hillside or any particular property,” she said. “As I stated last night, I have been working on this project for about two years, well before Mr. Gauteraux purchased any of that land. Additionally, he is not the only property owner of hillsides visible from Wallace.”

As stated in the application, Frieh wishes to include seven different amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which was last updated in 1996.

Each amendment would add to existing language with the goal of protecting against scenic and visual impacts, scattered development, and/or scarring of the hillsides and mountains made by access roads.

Frieh and supporters of the amendments believe that adding this language to the Comprehensive Plan will be a first step to protecting one of the county's most vital resources — its scenic beauty.

“Mountain views are a unique resource and greatly enhance quality of life,” she explained to the News-Press. “They are an important part of the character of the county, contributing to the visual quality of the area, increasing property values, attracting visitors, and enhancing the desirability and livability of the community.”

“While too much regulation is not something anyone prefers, lenient regulation leaves us vulnerable to unchecked development,” she added.

Planning & Zoning Administrator Dan Martinsen explains that a county’s Comprehensive Plan is essentially what building and zoning codes are based on. While the content of the plan is not law/code, it is used as a guiding principle when the P&Z Commission creates said laws/codes.

Critics of the proposed amendments have said that added regulation would/could violate a property owner’s rights to do what they want with their land.

Frieh responds to these critics by saying that there's quite a bit of confusion and misinformation circulating about the legal mechanics of the proposal.

“The proposed amendments are broad, long-range policy goals. They do not prohibit development and cannot be used as a basis to deny a development application,” she said.

Following her presentation, the P&Z Commission decided to table the discussion until their next meeting on Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Wallace Public Safety Building. Public comments related to the proposed changes will be accepted until Sept. 21 at 5 p.m.

Martinsen explains that at the next meeting, the P&Z Commission will "workshop" the proposed amendments and work to prepare their recommendation to the Shoshone County Board of Commissioners.

If recommended by the P&Z Commission and then approved by the Shoshone County Board of Commissioners, the amended Comprehensive Plan would then be a major factor in enabling changes to County Land Use Ordinances/Codes.

After the Wednesday meeting, Gauteraux spoke to the News-Press and believes that the proposed amendments are a bit more focused than Frieh said they are.

“Her goal is to stop building on the Wallace hillside right out her front door,” Gauteraux said, “Which happens to be the only 500 acres of private property on the south hills of Wallace, within the county.”

Despite various rumors of what may be built on the hillside, Gauteraux said that nothing is in the works right now.

“We bought the large track of 500 acres from a logging company to build two homes on. There’s been a lot of ideas floated (to us) and a lot of offers from people who want to develop. We’ve declined all of them. Our intention was to buy the property to build a couple single-family homes. The rumors of condos, tract homes, or whatever… are all false. There are zero plans for any of that development.”

Martinsen confirmed that the county has not received any building applications for any development on the south/southeast Wallace hillsides.

While Frieh does not represent any group, organized or otherwise, she believes that the more than 75 comment letters sent to the county in support of her proposal shows that many in the community support her efforts to preserve the undeveloped hillsides of the county.