Flathead family planning 

Monday night at the Flathead County Fairgrounds allowed glimpse into the possible future of Flathead County’s efforts to write a new county master plan.

More than 250 people attended a public hearing on proposed changes to the county’s family transfer exemption being considered by the Flathead County commissioners at the fairground’s Expo building.

The exemption allows landowners to gift property to immediate family without going through county subdivision review. But the county planning office believes the exemption is being abused.

According to the planning office, 28 percent of Flathead County subdivisions developed in the last five years resulted from family transfers. Two-thirds of all family transfers accomplished between 2000 and 2004 have already been re-sold.

The county planning office believes people are coming to the county, buying acreage, subdividing through family transfers and making a killing selling the lots.

By avoiding the county’s subdivision review process, such subdivisions also avoid oversight of their layout, road access, sewage treatment, utilities or emergency service access. Such developments also bypass the risk of rejection by county comissioners.

The commissioners are considering a new family transfer exemption that would force family members who receive transfers to wait three years before selling, with an allowance for family emergencies or financial hardship.

The vast majority of those attending the public hearing—by a show of hands—opposed the three-year rule. Fifty-two people lined up at microphones for a chance to speak for three minutes on the proposed resolution. About three-quarters spoke against it. Most of those in opposition feared injury to their property rights—the same fear that quashed the county’s 1994 attempt to revise its land-use master plan.

Russ Crowder, chairman of local property rights group American Dream Montana—arguably the man who led the charge against the 1994 master plan and leads the same charge today—questioned whether the transfers were really a problem.

County commissioners took no action on the proposed changes, and don’t necessarily have to. But by law, they and the county planning office must take action on a new master plan by October of this year.

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