Planning Board Approves Glacier Town Center

By Beacon Staff

The city planning board voted to recommend approval of the proposed Glacier Town Center Tuesday night, but after several tied votes, did not reach a consensus on access issues to U.S. 93.

Planning board members voted 4-2 to approve Phase 1 of Tennessee developer James “Bucky” Wolford’s 485-acre commercial and residential development, which would go up between U.S. 93 North and Whitefish Stage Road, bordered by West Reserve Drive to the south. Its 191-acre first phase consists of a “lifestyle center,” essentially an outdoor shopping mall located off of U.S. 93.

The planning board also voted 4-2 to approve Glacier Town Center’s plans for development, or PUD, with all amendments from the city planning staff. The board moved smoothly through the beginning amendments, which mostly dealt with aesthetic issues, before hitting a snag with disagreements over possible stoplights on U.S. 93. Planning board president Bryan Schutt then moved to postpone discussion of the project until after new agenda items had been discussed.

“This is not an attempt to back burner or shelve this thing, there’s just a lot of other business to attend to,” Schutt said to the crowd of about 45.

When the board returned to discussion of the Glacier Town Center, over three hours after the meeting initially begun, about 20 members of the public still remained to listen to the board tackle U.S. 93 access issues for the second time. The board previously took public comment and discussed the development at its Nov. 27 meeting, before deciding to hold off voting until Dec. 11.

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. The MDT, which has authority over U.S. 93, recommended two stoplights on U.S. 93 and a third entrance to the development.

Planning board members agreed that the third, middle entryway to the development should be a right turn only entrance and exit, but clashed when addressing stoplights at the development’s north and south entrances. Two amendments involving the stoplights failed with 3-3 votes: one proposing signals at both entrances, and the other suggesting the southern access have a right turn only entrance and exit instead of a light. Planning board member Kari Gabriel was absent from the meeting.

The board did agree to require Wolford Development to set aside two lots at the Rose Crossing intersection, so that the land would be available for other types of intersections – including a possible junior interchange – if state and city studies call for a change. The land would be held for three years.

The impasse over stoplights on U.S. 93 will now head to the Kalispell City Council, which ultimately has final say over whether to annex the property and approve the plans for the development, or PUD.