County proposes softening sign regulations in scenic corridor

2018-12-12 | Whitefish Pilot

The Flathead County Commissioners will hold a public hearing Thursday regarding proposed zoning text amendments, including one that would allow advertising signs to be erected in various parts of the county's extensive scenic corridor overlay, so long as they remain under 250 square feet in surface area.

The current zoning regulation states that all signs are permitted in the scenic corridor overlay except off-premise signs, defined as "outdoor advertising signs, billboards and painted bulletin signs."

The amendment - proposed by the Flathead County Planning Board - would strike the definition of off-premise signs and the current allotted dimensions section that states signs shall not be greater than 8 inches high and 36 inches wide.

The new text would read: all signs are permitted in this district, with the exception of billboards.

However, the new definition of "billboard" also would be altered to read "a sign shall not be considered a billboard unless the sign is designed and built with a surface on which poster panels or painted bulletins are mounted for the purpose of conveying visual messages or advertisements."

The text amendment would not include a limit to the number of signs allowed.

"It has the potential to vastly change the aesthetics of the Flathead Valley," Whitefish Planning and Building Director David Taylor said. "It could impact the natural beauty of the entire area."

The scenic corridor is currently defined as "an overlay or standing district intended to protect the scenic vistas and provide greater traffic safety along the highway corridors by restricting the number, size and location of outdoor advertising signs and billboards."

The scenic overlay follows many of Flathead County's major highways and roads including U.S. 93 from Whitefish to Lincoln County and Kalispell to Lakeside, Montana 40 from Whitefish to Columbia Falls, U.S. 2 and others.

The proposal would also slightly alter the definition of "scenic overlay," to say the scenic corridor would only regulate billboard signs and cellular towers and "no other land-use restrictions apply in this district."

Taylor said versions of the scenic corridor zoning regulation have been around since the 1980s in order to protect the scenic vistas of Flathead Valley. With the exception of a few billboards that were grandfathered in, the county has maintained tight restrictions on large advertisers.

The hearing will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, in the commissioners' chambers on the third floor of the county courthouse in Kalispell.