City planning board OK’s small apartments for homes, garages

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The Columbia Falls city-county planning board Tuesday night approved a text amendment to city zoning regulations that would allow existing homeowners to add small apartments to their properties, such as an apartment above a garage.

The apartments have to be 600 square feet or less and may be located in the attic, basement, garage or they can also be a stand alone structure.

The apartments must be compliant with minimum lots sizes and the apartment also must meet setbacks for accessory structures. Only one accessory apartment is allowed per lot of record and they can’t be rented out for less than one month — in other words, they can’t be used for short-term vacation rentals.

In addition, the homeowner must provide additional off-street parking for the structure.

The text change is close to what the City of Whitefish already has on the books, noted city planner Eric Mulcahy. The text change comes after increased demand for affordable housing in the city.

The board also approved a host of other text amendment changes that dealt with suburban-agriculture zones outside the city. The zone changes are designed to bring the city’s zoning in-line with the county.

The city has almost no agricultural zoning within the city limits, but it does have agricultural zoning south and along the Flathead River and down South Hilltop in it’s “doughnut,” which comes under the jurisdiction of the city.

The zone changes expand some land uses, like golf courses, nurseries, livestock use, churches, class A manufactured homes, which are commonly called doublewide trailers, private stables and bed and breakfasts.

Other uses fall under conditional uses, like kennels. Under the old city code, kennels were simply permitted in agricultural zones.

The text amendment changes also allow for a kitchen in a guest house. The previous zoning did not allow a kitchen in a guest house.

The changes also allow for a subdivision entrance sign, as long as it doesn’t exceed 24 square feet and does not exceed six feet in height.

The changes were approved by a unanimous vote. They now go to the city council for final approval. Council will hold a public hearing at its Feb. 5 meeting, beginning at 7 p.m. They text amendment changes are available on the city’s web site at cityofcolumbiafalls.org. Click on the agenda for the January planning board meeting.

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