VIRGINIA CITY – The Madison County Planning Board has seemed to settle on a setback distance for the Madison River and its tributaries and is now planning a public hearing on the draft ordinance.
The planning board met Monday night, the focus of the meeting again being a proposed streamside setback ordinance.
The board voted that a streamside setback would include a 500-foot jurisdictional area, a 300-foot building setback and 150-foot streamside buffer zone.
The idea would that the 150-foot streamside buffer zone would have no disturbance and buildings must be at least 300-feet back from the high water mark.
This idea was introduced to the board, in a way, by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks land use planner, Doris Fischer.
Fischer, who is also the former Madison County planning department director, gave a presentation at Monday night’s meeting about tools FWP is developing concerning wildlife habitat and land use planning.
The agency has developed a program called crucial areas planning system, which is a map based program to help land-use planners identify wildlife habitat conditions on the land and juxtapose them with a variety of human impacts including development, transportation systems and energy infrastructure.
The CAPS is based on geographic information system, or GIS, layers to compile maps with a variety of layers.
In addition CAPS, Fischer and FWP have been working with the Montana Commerce Department on revising the Montana model subdivision regulations, which many counties use as a basis for their subdivision regulations.
The model regulations in the past have included precious little about how development impacts wildlife habitat and what mitigation measures could be taken, Fischer said.
Often developers won’t contact FWP biologists about the impacts their subdivision will have on wildlife until they are already well along in the subdivision review process, she said.
“We hear about it late in the game when there’s already an application prepared,” Fischer said.
One of the things FWP is going to suggest be added to the model subdivision regulations is a recommended streamside setback, which would include a 150-foot vegetative buffer and 300-foot building setback.
“The building setback is intended to recognize what is human nature, that is to encroach on a buffer,” she said.
After Fischer’s presentation, the board took up the subject of streamside setbacks. Ultimately, the discussion came back to Fischer’s presentation and the concepts FWP is working on in regard to streamside setback.
The contention surrounding the streamside setbacks on the Madison River seem to have focused on distance.
A streamside setback steering committee was formed in 2008. Their recommendations were given to the planning board about a year ago and included a minimum 75-foot setback on the Madison River and tributaries.
This past spring the planning board decided they would like a 500-foot setback on the Madison River and 150-foot setback on the tributaries.
Those against the larger setback have said it violates private property rights and will unfairly limit what landowners can do with their property.
In working to settle on a setback distance, the planning board has been discussing a tiered system, where the area closest to the river would have no disturbance, but farther away from the river, things like lawns, swing sets, and other recreation improvements could be allowed, but not a permanent structure.
On Monday night, planning board member Donald Loyd focused on Fischer’s presentation. The tiered setback she presented seemed like a good solution for the Madison River, Loyd said.
“I think it would put us on very solid ground to go with the same standard FWP has set,” he said.
However, planning board member Dave Maddison continued his support for the 75-foot setback proposed by the steering committee.
“I still think we ought to respect the streamside setback steering committee’s recommendation,” Maddison said. “Not that I don’t understand where everybody is coming from … I just think it’s too much property.”
Board member Lane Adamson went the other way. He still felt that a 500-foot setback was appropriate.
“I think our responsibility as citizens is long term and big picture,” Adamson said. “I don’t think that’s such a large distance when you have a workable variance process.”
After deliberating, the board voted in favor of Loyd’s suggestion: 500-foot jurisdictional area, 300-foot setback and 150-foot streamside buffer.
After the vote, the board took public comment.
Tricia Stabler was frustrated with the board’s lack of appreciation of the sacrifice landowners would be asked to make if such a setback were put into law.
“You’re asking us landowners to sacrifice, what are you going to sacrifice?” Stabler asked.
The proposed setback is a violation of private property rights, which are important to her and should be important to the planning board.
“I would consider private property rights, that’s what I would consider first and foremost even above the animals,” she said.
Chris Murphy, a local Realtor and member of the streamside setback steering committee, told the board that the proposed setback would reduce values on empty lots along the river.
In some cases, people with river front property wouldn’t be able to build a home where they could see the river, Murphy said.
Besides the setback distance, the board also voted to strengthen the variance language in the ordinance.
Board members Richard Meehan and Jan Kluver Banks worked on the language and tried to make it firm in regards to solidifying private property rights.
The general idea is to modify the variance language in the ordinance to assure that someone with a lot that has special circumstance, like a lot narrower than the setback distance, will get a variance from the ordinance, Meehan said.
At their September meeting the board will make any final changes to the draft ordinance and then plan a public hearing on the ordinance for October.
After the public hearing the board will make a recommendation on the ordinance to the county commissioners, who will have the final decision on the ordinance.