The Flathead County Board of Adjustment unanimously approved a temporary administrative conditional-use permit for J&J Ranch near Whitefish to host a one-day antique market event in July — a decision that came after a one-hour public hearing Tuesday evening during which neighbors of the ranch relayed numerous concerns to the board.
Prior to approval of the permit, the board added three safety-based conditions to the 11-condition permit, as suggested by board member Roger Noble. The conditions require the applicants to hire members of the Flathead County Sheriff’s Posse to help direct traffic, submit an access plan for emergency vehicles to the board and to local law enforcement, and plan a secondary exit from the venue.
The additional conditions are intended to address some of the grievances brought forth by Whitefish residents for the event, The Market Beautiful. Many who took to the podium maintained the market, which organizers anticipate will attract between 1,700 and 2,000 attendees, would lead to traffic congestion along Voerman and Dillon roads and make it difficult for emergency vehicles to access the property.
Kristin Yandora, like many others, pointed on a map to where their properties lie in proximity to the site for The Market Beautiful.
“I appreciate you [The Market Beautiful] trying to run your business, but the bottom line is it’s a neighborhood,” Yandora said. “During the events already held on the property we have noted an increase in traffic that has made it difficult to get in and out of our driveway.”
Yandora’s property is located adjacent to the primary entrance of J&J Ranch off Voerman Road. Her husband is a local physician and she saod the potential blocking of their driveway is an “occupational hazard” because it could impede on his ability to make it to the hospital quickly if need be.
Others mentioned concerns related to noise from the anticipated live music at the event, whether all of the trash would be picked up, and highlighted how the event as a whole disrupts the peaceful rural lifestyle of the area.
On the other hand, organizers of The Market Beautiful, who submitted the application for the temporary permit on behalf of J&J Ranch, highlighted how vendors and tourists who attend the event will also be spending money at local restaurants, shops, bars and hotels.
One of the organizers, Vanessa Pleasants of Kalispell, added that wherever the market was held there would most likely be frustrations from neighbors.
“My hope is that we can all overlook some inconveniences,” Pleasants said. “We are an organized, family-oriented and old-fashioned event.”
Ultimately, the board granted the permit based on the potential economic benefits of the market and the temporary one-day time-line.
“What we are looking at here tonight is that we truly respect your concerns and we also see the property owner and what he wants to do with his property and then try to find a balance that’s equitable,” said board member Cal Dyck. “This is only for one day, it’s not something they are asking to do every weekend.”
The board’s decision is final. There were 21 letters of opposition at the start of Tuesday’s public hearing.
Attendees also used the meeting as an opportunity to highlight longer-standing issues that related more to past and future events at J&J Ranch, rather than to the vintage market.
“There are legal and public interest issues at stake as well. When Mr. [Johnny] Shockey purchased this land, he was aware of the property being zoned as residential agricultural and despite this he conducted multiple large- and small-scale events without permits,” Yandora said.
The ranch, which is zoned agricultural with a 20-acre minimum lot size, has hosted various events in the past including skijoring competitions, weddings and last year’s The Market Beautiful. For some of the events, Shockey failed to obtain a conditional-use permit beforehand. The property is hosting a two-day concert in July for which the owners hope to sell 10,000 tickets.
Many attendees questioned county Planning Director Mark Mussman’s support of the administrative conditional-user permit prior to forwarding the application to the Board of Adjustments for final approval because of the amount of opposition. Mussman said the agriculture zone allows for “rodeo-style events in arenas,” which he said sways the property’s ability to host an annual skijoring competition. He said it is sometimes difficult to distinguish what should be designated agricultural and what shouldn’t.
“Anyone can argue that agriculture in its very nature is commercial,” Mussman said.
Nathaniel Hall of Whitefish, and others, said previous events indicate property owners are trying to establish a commercial property within an agricultural zone — something they believe will dramatically impact their quality of life.
“While this particular event [The Market Beautiful] may be lower impact than some, such as multi-day concerts, my concern is the continued attempts to commercialize the property and the effects it will have,” Hall said.
J&J Ranch currently has one other conditional use permit attached to the property.
The permit was granted in 2018 for a Camp and Retreat Center that allows the owners to offer “glamping” events, farm-to-table meals and host two concerts a year. The permit does not allow for commercial weddings, though the ranch owners have held weddings on the property, and that has been another point of contention with neighbors. In March, owners of the ranch submitted an application to the Planning Office to expand its previously approved Camp and Retreat Center to allow for weddings at the ranch, but withdrew the application amid opposition from neighbors.
Michael Jackson of Whitefish questioned if there might be a cap on the number of events such as The Market Beautiful that could be allowed, saying “you have to stop it somewhere.”
“We all bought into this area thinking we were going to have a peaceful life,” Jackson said. “If you don’t have the integrity of the acres and the zoning that goes with it, it’s a shame.”