By Michael Howell
Stevensville Mayor Gene Mim Mack immediately put the crowd at ease at last Thursday’s public hearing concerning the adoption of Airport Affected Area regulations when he said that no decision would be made that evening despite the fact that it had been placed on the town council’s agenda for a second reading and potential approval. He said he had heard from several people in the area who expressed surprise that the regulations had already passed on first reading and felt they should have received notification. Mim Mack said public participation was of the utmost importance and any final decision on the matter would be delayed to ensure everyone concerned had a chance to participate.
The Montana legislature changed the rules in 2005, according to Mim Mack, requiring all cities and towns in the state with airports to adopt Airport Affected Area regulations. The affected zone extends 1200 feet from the runway and involves regulations governing anything that penetrates the protected airspace around the runway, which rises as the distance from the runway increases.
Shawn Shea from Morrison-Maierle, the engineering company contracted to do planned airport improvements, said that any existing structure or landscaping that penetrates the protected airspace would be grandfathered in. He said new structures must be permitted and may be allowed to penetrate the protected zone but those permits may require some sort of mitigation such as lights or other safety measures be installed.
Several people in attendance expressed concerns about the new regulations and the planned lengthening of the runway. Some thought it unreasonable to require permits for planting a tree that may or may not become a hazard. There was some discussion about the rule requiring a permit for any new plant over 5 feet. Some wondered if that meant 5 feet from the ground or five feet into the protected airspace.
Mim Mack said that how the five-foot limit applies was not clear, but that clarity would be provided at the next scheduled meeting to consider the new regulations. That public hearing is scheduled for June 12, at 6 p.m. at the town hall.
Other people expressed concern about increased air traffic and possibly larger and faster planes landing at the airport. Shea said that planned airport improvements and the new regulations would not change the size of planes landing at the airport. He said airplanes approved to land at the airport could have a little longer wing span than currently allowed but would still be less than 10 passengers. He said the longer runway would accommodate a slightly faster approach speed.
Mim Mack said the town would look into all the questions raised so far about the proposed regulations and hopefully provide answers at the next meeting.
In other business, the Town Council approved using $52,000 in contingency funds on the town’s Water System Improvement Project. PCI consultant Donny Ramer said that the contracting company had changed its plans and was going to put a second crew to work on the project and was actually working 10-hour shifts. Ramer said Rural Development, the funding agency involved, had confirmed that each crew would probably require full time inspection. He said only one inspector for one crew was budgeted for, but a second would probably be required. The Council agreed unanimously to use contingency funds to pay for another inspector if required. Ramer said there was currently about $140,000 in the contingency fund. Substantial completion of the project is expected by June 22.
PCI consultant Mike Whelehon said that the town’s Sewer Improvement Project was running about three weeks behind schedule and that the contract deadline had already passed last Thursday and the company was paying $250 per day for the violation. He said substantial completion was expected by May 12.
The Council approved a request for a Conditional Use Permit for the new owners of the Bitterroot River Bed and Breakfast located on the west side of town near the river. The business is located in a residential zone. The new owners said they have no plans for expanding the operation or adding any more rooms to the structure beyond the four already in existence and they do not plan on hosting weddings or other large events on a regular basis.
The Council denied a request for re-zoning a property located at 3713 Eastside Highway just south of town but located within the Town’s extended zoning area. Current zoning in the area allows commercial development within 500 feet of Eastside Highway frontage. The owner of the property requested re-zoning to allow his planned construction of storage units to extend beyond that commercial zone on his property.
According to the mayor, every letter and all the public comment at the Planning and Zoning Committee meeting, except that given by the owner’s consultant, was against the re-zoning request. He said people expressed concerns about the negative effects of lighting and increased traffic on the private road.
Councilperson Bill Perrin, who made the motion to deny the request, said, “Generally we listen to the will of the people in the neighborhood in these matters.” The motion to deny the request was approved unanimously.
John Horat, consultant for the property owner, said that if the re-zoning request was denied that the owner would go ahead and construct a reduced version of the mini-storage project on the part of the property already included in the commercial zone.
The Council also:
• approved a Special Event Permit for Western Heritage Days, an annual event sponsored by the Stevensville Main Street Association.
• approved a letter of support for a TSEP Construction Application for Bridge Replacement on Groff Lane and the Union Irrigation Ditch crossings.
• approved a resolution authorizing participation in the Stevensville Rural Fire District’s accident insurance policy.
• approved a resolution establishing Development Code Fees. This was done as part of the codification process and no change in fees was proposed.
• set a date of May 22 for a Public Hearing about establishing Flood Plain Administrative Fees. Proposed fees are $150 for a permit, $450 for a variance, and $450 for an appeal.
• set a date of May 22 to hold a Public Hearing for a resolution amending Stevensville Swimming Pool rates for 2014. Season pass fees are being raised. If approved, the new rate increases are as follows. The individual season pass will be raised from $60 to $65. The Family of 5 season pass will go up from $125 to $135. Season passes for groups of 6 to 14 will go up from $160 to $175 and groups of 15 to 30 will go up from $200 to $225.
• The council also set a special meeting of the Town Council for Thursday, May 1 at 6 p.m. for a discussion/decision regarding Sewer Project Letter of Conditions with Rural Development Grant/Loan.