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Polson City Commission discusses changes

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POLSON — The Polson City Commission approved modest increases in park-use and golfing fees for the coming year during its regular meeting Sept. 9. The only significant hike was for golf-cart storage, which jumped 20%.

Parks and Recreation director Pat Nowlen told commissioners that city parks were bursting at the seams this summer, with use of the picnic shelters almost doubling from 2021. “People were definitely out there recreating more,” he said.   

Groups wanting to reserve shelters at Boettcher and Riverside Park will see a $5 increase for the most popular picnic areas, with higher rates for weekend reservations. 

At Polson Bay Golf Course, the season pass went up $35 to $750 for adults. According to Nowlen, fees are slightly more than Larchmont in Missoula and Mission Mountain in Ronan, and considerably less than Canyon River in Missoula and Whitefish Lake Golf Club in the Flathead Valley. 

“Our goal is to sit in the middle,” Nowlen said. 

In other business:

- The commission unanimously denied a request for a zoning variance from homeowner Dana Deranleau, who had sought permission to add a storage shed to his property on 5th Ave. E. An aging relative is planning to move to Polson, and he hoped to build an above-ground shed, measuring 60-by-20 feet, to store her possessions. He purchased the property in 1977 with a 900-square-foot house, and has since added an expansive porch area, a 30-by-30-foot garage, and a tool shed.

During a public hearing prior to the commission meeting, city planner Rob Edington explained the planning staff’s recommendation to deny the variance. The area is currently zoned for 40% land coverage and Deranleau’s existing structures already exceed that allowance. Even though several other landowners in the area have also exceeded the coverage limits, he noted that such issues should be addressed by a change in zoning regulations rather than a variance. 

“This is a lovely property, one of my favorite in Polson,” said commissioner Carolyn Pardini of the hacienda-style house. “But I think it’s really important to keep lot coverage down. The biggest reason is storm drainage – the more concrete you put down and the more coverage there is, the less percolation you have.”

Prior to voting against the variance, commission Laura Dever urged Deranleau to work with the planning department to come up with a more acceptable solution. 

“I respect everybody’s decision,” said Deranleau. “It is a little out of compliance, but I’m just trying find a happy medium.”

- Mayor Eric Huffine and commissioners Pardini and Tony Isbell reported receiving calls from several area contractors concerned about a recent change in the Polson building code. 

“I’ve received about six phone calls on that from electricians and mechanical guys on how are we ever going to get the parts and pieces,” said Huffine.

City manager Ed Meece said the order, which he had signed in June, reflected changes in the state building code. “My understanding is we don’t have any choice in that matter,” he said. “We can’t have a building inspection program under the state of Montana and not follow state code.”

Isbell expressed his ongoing concern about the lack of affordable housing in Polson and its impact on businesses’ ability to hire employees. By making building codes more complex, “It’s almost like we’re fighting one side against the other,” he added.

- City finance director Kim Sassaman offered a report on the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district, outlining the funds awarded for five projects in FY2022. Approximately $1,035,000 remains in the fund, which is overseen by the Polson Redevelopment Agency.

- Meece noted that Tyler Baker, a Salish Kootenai College grad who has served as a management intern for the city for the past year, was hired as special projects manager. His duties include overseeing communications and social media, updating the website, and authoring press releases, in addition to working with the water and sewer department. 

- Longtime citizen watchdog Lee Mannicke pointed out that a portrait of Polson’s first female mayor, Norene Mosely, who served from 1971-’77, was tucked under a table in the commission chamber, apparently due to some construction in the hallway. 

“I think she should go back, in due respect, rather have her resting under a table,” he said. Similarly, he suggested a plaque bearing the names of former mayors be rescued from its spot under the table, updated and rehung.

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