April 10 – A proposal to build an outdoor recreational park near the west bank of Flathead Lake has met with great opposition from neighbors, who have started an online petition and submitted numerous comments to the Lake County Planning Authority. The development is undesirable.
Torsten and Jessica Wedel are asking the board to change the zoning codes so they can build the park on approximately 17 acres between Lakeside and Rollins on the west side of US 93 and south of Goose Bay and Table Bay. The Wedels want to offer family-friendly activities for locals and tourists outside of the most popular areas of the Flathead Valley.
The proposed change to the county’s Upper West Shore Zoning District regulations would allow a range of commercial outdoor recreational activities, including nature watching, ax throwing, outdoor laser tag, mini golf, gem mining, cable cars, zip lines, summer camps, horse riding, tubing hills and “mountain tours” .
The amended rules would specifically prohibit commercial swimming pools, water parks, bowling alleys, RV parks and commercial resorts.
Few commercial activities such as vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts are currently permitted in the area subject to the proposed change known as Subdistrict C.
Dozens of homeowners in Subdistrict C and the surrounding area have submitted letters of objection to the planning authority, which is due to examine the proposal on Wednesday. Many raised concerns about noise, wildlife and the environment, and additional traffic on US 93, saying they had not received adequate formal notification of the proposal.
A resident, Tessa Kiesz, started a petition against the project on Change.org, which had collected more than 15,000 signatures on Friday afternoon. She characterized the proposed attraction as an “amusement park” and a flaw in the region’s natural landscape.
“How this project is handled sets a precedent for how future developments will play out,” Kiesz wrote. “No amount of money raised by this park could ever offset the priceless value of our Montana lands. The speed and secrecy with which this development plan has been advanced only underscores how dire the negative effects will be, not just for Lake County – that Flathead Valley, but Montana as a whole. “
The story goes on
THE WEDELS, who live in Stevensville, run the North American subsidiary of Wiegand, a German company that makes slides, toboggan runs and non-powered roller coasters that many ski resorts use to attract business in the warmer months. But in an email on Friday, the couple told Daily Inter Lake that the company was not involved in their plans for the outdoor park.
They also pointed out that the project’s neighbors’ characterizations are exaggerated, saying they were linked to conservation groups and the Montana Department of Transportation.
“We are not planning a theme park, water park, etc.,” wrote Torsten Wedel. “We believe that with this change in text, the possibilities would add diversity to lake activities and ease the congested access points to the lake. We believe that different activities are contributing to the overcrowding of the currently popular areas.”
The Wedels emphasized that they have not yet committed to the activities their park would offer.
Lake County Commissioner Bill Barron said the park was, as suggested, nothing more than a typical amusement park – for example, the Silverwood theme park in North Idaho, with its water slides, swimming pools and towering metal roller coasters.
“It won’t be a silver forest,” said Barron on Friday. “There will be no carnival trips and the like.”
The project still requires several rounds of approval before it can be implemented. The district commissioners would consider the proposed text change in May if the planning authority comes up with a positive recommendation after its meeting on Wednesday. Only then could the Wedels apply for a conditional usage permit and undergo construction and environmental tests by local and state officials.
“If you think of this as a 100 yard line, that process is the first yard line,” said Barron. “It’s just one step and there is another whole process if you get this amendment.”
Barron said the county received “hundreds” of phone calls and emails complaining about the project this week. But he’s not ready to make a decision about the merits of the proposed park.
“I didn’t even know about it until we started getting calls because it’s not where it gets to the commissioners’ desk,” he said. “It’s just too early for me to say either way. I have to look at all of the information before I can make a decision.”
Reporter Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4439 or [email protected]