Great Falls Tribune - July 17, 2012, By KARL PUCKETT
Cascade County is proposing height restrictions on new development in the vicinity of Malmstrom Air Force Base flight paths and facilities.
Cascade County Planning Director Susan Conell said the aim is to prevent conflicts between tall developments — such wind farms and cell towers —and aircraft.
The Cascade County Planning Board will conduct a public hearing at 9 a.m. today on changes to its zoning regulations.
A new "military overlay zoning district," which includes the height restrictions, would be the most significant change.
Earlier this year, the Planning Department completed a Malmstrom Air Force Base Joint Land Use Study.
The study recommends that local governments coordinate with the Air Force on the development of tall structures. To implement the recommendation, the county is proposing to introduce maximum height restrictions ranging from 50 to 500 feet, Conell said.
"We're hoping to promote cooperation between the county, property owners and Malmstrom at the front end to reduce potential conflicts and still allow growth," she said.
In the military overlay district, the most restrictive zone would be the approach and departure clearance area, or runway flight path.
Structures within that narrow zone could be a maximum of 50 feet tall. A one-story house is about 12 feet tall, Conell said.
The entire flight path, including the runway on the base and its extension off of the base, is about 16 miles long and shaped like a helicopter blade stretching diagonally across the county.
"If you had a silo that was 100 feet and you wanted to put it on a property in that boundary, you are going to have to go through that variance," Conell said.
Areas farther from the flight path would have would carry 150- and 500-foot height restrictions.
Developers could apply for exceptions, or variances, to the height restrictions, Conell said.
Malmstrom would be notified of the proposals and assist the county in reviewing the plans to ensure they comply with the rules, Conell said.
"If it's not a good fit, they would maybe have to move it over or mitigate it some how," Conell said.
The study on which the zoning changes are based was funded by a $188,293 grant to the county by Office of Economic Adjustment, a division of the U.S. Department of Defense.
The 1,500-foot-long, 200-foot-wide runway at the base has been closed since the late 1990s, and the base's only current flying mission is a helicopter squadron.
Local military supporters want to keep the runway free of potential conflicts with development in order to increase the chances of attracting a new flying mission to Malmstrom.
During the public meetings on the land-use study, one landowner criticized the process arguing it infringed on private property rights and how landowners can development their land.
Cascade County is the first local government to propose implementing recommendations contained in the study. The report included other counties because Malmstrom's missile silos are located across northcentral Montana.
The height restrictions are based on the elevation of the Malmstrom runway.
As a result, if properties are situated at a lower elevation than the runway, it's possible structures could be constructed at a height taller than the restrictions, Conell said. For example, the elevation at one of the lots at proposed ag-tech park west of Malmstrom, where the height restriction would be 150 feet, is 86 feet below the runway. That means a structure could be 236 feet high.
The least restrictive height limit, 500 feet, would be in place in a circle roughly 16 miles from north to south and 16 miles across.
Height limits also are proposed for missile silos located in the county. Applicants would need a special use permit for structures more than 50 feet tall located 1,200 feet to 2,400 feet from a missile site.
A 1,200-foot buffer already exists on land that the Air Force leases for the sites.
Cascade County is proposing to implement new standards for infrastructure associated with oil and gas development such as "man camps."
Planning Director Susan Conell said the county wants the regulations in place should oil and gas development pick up in the county.
"We want to be proactive, not reactive," she said.
The county allows oil and gas drilling in agricultural zoning with a special use permit.
The changes would not affect where exploration can occur but would add development standards for roads, housing, water and sewer lines and other infrastructure.
Those standards could then be considered when a development application is reviewed, Conell said.
"We want to make sure when they're done they clean up what's left behind," she said.
Development associated with oil development is a big issue with county planners since the oil boom in eastern Montana, Conell said. Cascade County has received inquiries from other counties about handling such development through zoning because the county has countywide zoning regulations in place, she said.
The county is conducting a public hearing today at 9 a.m. on several proposed zoning regulations including the oil and gas-related change.
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The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.