Middle Fork Flathead stock

The Great Northern Railroad as well as US Highway 2 run alongside 54 miles of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The area around Glacier National Park has seen a surge in short-term rentals as tourism increases.

Airbnb hosts at Glacier National Park’s doorstep could be in for new regulations.

On Wednesday night, the Flathead County Planning Board approved new rules for short-term rentals along the park’s southwestern edge. If adopted by the Flathead County Commissioners, they would require homeowners there to complete a minor land-use application; have a contact person or management company on call 24 hours a day; have adequate off-street parking; base their maximum occupancy on the building’s sewage capacity; and meet various inspection requirements.

They would also need to meet state licensing requirements and pay Montana’s bed tax.

The rules are identical to those that Flathead County adopted in 2017 for its zoned areas, which are clustered around Kalispell, Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Bigfork and U.S. 93. These new regulations would apply for the Canyon Area Land Use Regulatory System, which covers West Glacier and a string of other hamlets in the tight, winding Flathead River valley.

“In recent years, members of the community have noticed a marked increase in short term rentals and have concerns that there are no performance standards associated with operating a short term rental,” states the proposal for the new rules, put forward by the Middle Canyon Land Use Advisory Committee. Two vacation-rental sites, Airbnb and VRBO, each listed about 45 properties available for rent in the corridor Thursday morning.

The planning board's decision comes amid a surge in tourism to Glacier and other national parks. In some other gateway towns, residents have faulted short-term rentals for luring rowdy guests and squeezing the housing supply.

But Flathead County's rules are moving forward with little fanfare. Mark Mussman, director of the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Office, said the eight-member planning board approved the rules unanimously, with minimal discussion in a “sparsely attended” meeting.

They’ll next go to the County Commissioners for approval. Mussman expects that to happen in early February.

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Higher education reporter for the Missoulian