At Monday night’s public hearing on the Glacier Town Center, Kalispell City Council heard from citizens largely unopposed to the development, but still concerned about the potential for additional stoplights on U.S. Highway 93. Councilman Randy Kenyon’s motion to extend public comment on the development for five weeks died when no other council members would second it. While no votes were allowed at the hearing, the council will likely formally take up the controversial project at its next regular meeting.
The 485-acre commercial and residential development 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 development’s primary hurdle consists of the need to install two new stoplights on U.S. 93, north of West Reserve, which conflicts with the city’s draft transportation plan, and its goal to keep U.S. 93 a rural, fast-moving road.
Critics of the proposed development’s current form called for the involvement of an outside traffic expert to take a fresh look at alternatives to adding two new stoplights to U.S. 93 – and test the validity of traffic options recommended by the developer, James “Bucky” Wolford, and the Montana Department of Transportation.
Mayre Flowers, executive director of Citizens for a Better Flathead, recommended bringing in Dan Burden, a nationally known traffic and community expert to help find common ground on appropriate entrances to Glacier Town Center. She also urged the council to adopt the city’s draft transportation plan, impose transportation impact fees and work out a plan to jointly pay for an overpass, allowing entrance to the development without stoplights. Seven other speakers expressed their opposition to the addition of two stoplights.
Ken Kalvig, attorney for Wolford Development, countered that the draft transportation plan does not restrict the number of stoplights on U.S. 93 and said that holding the public comment period open for five weeks in order to bring in an outside expert violated Wolford’s due process rights. Traffic Engineer Kathleen Krager defended her assessment that two stoplights along U.S. 93 was the best option available. Seven citizens, in addition to members of Wolford’s team, spoke up in support of approving the development.
Brian Schutt, president of the Kalispell Planning Board, which was deadlocked over these traffic issues, emphasized to the council that the decision it will make on the Glacier Town Center is momentous, and should be done with careful consideration for the future of Kalispell, regardless of the wishes of a developer, or the recommendations of the state Department of Transportation.
“The traffic engineers in Helena do not have to live every day with the decisions they make for Kalispell,” Schutt said.
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