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BOCC approves Comp. Plan amendments

by CHANSE WATSON
Managing Editor | April 30, 2021 11:57 AM

WALLACE – Changes to Shoshone County's Comprehensive Plan are on their way following a Thursday afternoon decision by the Board of County Commissioners.

In a 2-0-1 decision from the BOCC (Commissioner Hansen was not present for the proceedings), both Commissioners Mike Fitzgerald and Jay Huber approved changes to the plan that had previously been recommended by the County Planning & Zoning committee in October of 2020.

The decision on Thursday came after the board invited interested parties to speak during a public hearing in the Shoshone County district courtroom. The overwhelming majority of the commentators, both written and verbal, supported the proposed comp. plan changes.

P&Z Administrator Dan Martinsen explained in a previous interview 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.

Proponents, including the original petitioner Courtney Frieh, mainly citied the preservation of the environment, natural beauty, and the local economy as reasons for the BOCC to accept the changes.

"I do believe developers should get a return on their investment, but not at the complete expense of the public welfare ... so we need to formulate reasonable restrictions that everyone can live with and that don't deprive property owners of their rights," Frieh said.

The few present that were in opposition that spoke up, including Wallace property owner Ryder Gauterax, countered by arguing that the changes would clash with the existing language of the plan, discourage economic growth, and target a select number of private property owners in the area.

"When you come into Wallace, you see a lot of land and a lot of mountains. I think that 95% (to 98%) of the hillsides you see are actually public land...so this is only directed at a small number of people," Gauterax said.

Jones and Gauteraux LLC. purchased 500 acres of land, located south/southeast of Wallace, earlier in 2020 from Layton Land & Timber. Included in this land deal was 40 acres of property on the hillside immediately south of Downtown Wallace (unofficially Printer Peak).

The topic of development on the hillside and the perceived threat to the city's viewshed was what motivated Frieh to submit proposed amendments to the county's Comprehensive Plan in September 2020. Initially starting with seven proposed amendments, the county P&Z commission ended up recommending two of them (one amended) in October 2020 to the BOCC.

The two amendments that have be approved were number 5 and 6:

5.Develop design standards and criteria for development on hillsides.

6.The City of Wallace's designation as a historical site should be protected and enhanced by preserving the natural environment and mountains surrounding Wallace through adoption of a mountain overlay zone.

With the adoption of the proposed amendments, this new wording can now play a role in the creation/editing of Planning & Zoning codes moving forward.

"I think the county commissioners reached the right decision for the future of Wallace," Frieh said. "Especially in light of the fact that there were 262 public comment letters in support of the proposed amendments and only 2 in opposition."

To ensure what she sees as complete protection of the Wallace hillsides, Frieh has also been involved in having the city of Wallace work up their own comprehensive plan amendments, as reflected in the February 10 City Council meeting.

Frieh explained that the council unanimously approved two motions in that meeting. The first was a motion to notify the county that (the City) appreciates and supports their efforts to protect the City's viewshed through the adoption of the proposed comprehensive plan amendments and mountain overlay zone. The second directed the city P&Z committee to work with the county in formulating complementary policies and zoning.

"(The) Council requests Wallace P&Z to formulate proposed amendments to the existing City comprehensive plan to include policies that promote hillside regulation and regulate development (for natural and scenic resource reasons, erosion management and public safety) with the objective of adopting a complementary mountain overlay district."

Wallace P&Z currently has a public hearing scheduled for May 5 at 6 p.m. at the Wallace City Hall to hear public comment on proposed changes to the city's Comprehensive Plan. Written testimony will also be accepted until 5 p.m. on May 5.