Glacier Town Center Hits Snag at Planning Board Hearing

By Beacon Staff

The proposed Glacier Town Center collided with Kalispell’s draft transportation plan at a city planning board meeting Tuesday night.

The 485-acre commercial and residential development, being put forth by Wolford Development, would go up between U.S. Highway 93 North and Whitefish Stage Road, bordered by West Reserve Drive to the south. The development’s 191-acre first phase consists of a “lifestyle center,” essentially an outdoor shopping center located off of U.S. 93.

But the stoplights north of West Reserve that would be required for shoppers to enter and exit Glacier Town Center conflict with plans by city officials to keep U.S. 93 a rural-style, fast moving arterial road that allows rapid travel between Kalispell and Whitefish.

Planning board president Bryan Schutt and fellow members decided to hold off on voting to recommend the project to city council, and will resume discussion at the Dec. 11 meeting. Because access issues to U.S. 93 might significantly change the plans for the Glacier Town Center development, Schutt said to the crowd of about 45, he felt the board needed more time before recommending it.

“For me, Highway 93 is a crucial sticking point,” Schutt said. “It’s tough to know the final size and shape of what I’m approving with this much up in the air.”

Chad Wolford, son of Tennessee developer James “Bucky” Wolford, told the planning board that while there were several aspects of the Glacier Town Center proposal upon which he was willing to compromise, the cost of installing interchanges on U.S. 93 that involved ramps instead of stoplights was simply too high.

“That to me is going to be a serious problem to make this deal work,” Wolford said. “I can’t afford to do two junior interchanges.”

The snag for Glacier Town Center came at the end of a nearly four-hour public hearing in which both planning board members and the public expressed nearly universal support for the development.

The planning board voted unanimously to recommend annexation of the 485 acres at the zoning designations requested by Wolford.

Even after Schutt expressed his reservations, planning board member C.M. “Butch” Clark reassured Wolford: “We’re not trying to shut your project down, Chad, you’ve got a workable project.”

Clark added, however, that he needed some time to “digest” the amount of material before the board, particularly in light of a letter from the Montana Department of Transportation and another by Wayne Freeman, Director of Land Planning for CTA Architects in Kalispell, which is handling the Wolford project.

The MDT letter recommends that of Glacier Town Center’s three connections to U.S. 93, two should have stoplights – conflicting with Kalispell’s draft transportation plan. The letter by Freeman objects to several of the recommendations made by the Kalispell Planning Department for the Glacier Town Center, on issues including park space, sidewalks in the parking lots and travel corridors through the eventual development.

Since the planning board simply makes recommendations to the city council on development, Wolford may choose not to make the recommended changes and simply proceed through the process to reach the council – though as of Tuesday night, Wolford’s team and city planning department staff were making plans to meet and figure out the next step.