Kalispell’s Southern End: The Next Boomtown?

By Beacon Staff

Since 1913, when Josephine and the late Hank Siderius homesteaded about 200 acres south of Kalispell and began farming and grazing animals there, the Siderius family has watched the valley undergo immense changes. Now, their historic homestead may be ushering in a new stage for the south Kalispell area as the proposed site of a large commercial and residential development, Siderius Commons.

The subdivision has sparked a review of the city’s growth policy that could open up the lands south of Kalispell to new types of development. And while space and utilities on the north side of town are becoming cramped, sewer and water lines are open and ready for use up to two miles south of the city. Growth is slowing all over the valley, but when it does pick up again, along with the economy, much of it appears likely to happen south of Kalispell.

From Industrial to Homes and Sales

In the early 1990s, when the county and city had combined planning offices, a neighborhood plan for the area south of Kalispell identified light-industrial use along U.S. Highway 93. The city’s growth policy, adopted in 2003, followed that designation by-and-large, keeping the industrial focus for about one-quarter mile on either side of the highway and suburban residential – a low density housing designation – behind that.

But five years later, the area is only moderately developed with a checkerboard of businesses ranging from a radio station to an auction house, RV center and beverage distributor. At Old School Station, a 55-acre industrial park with 17 lots, only two lots have been developed.

And future he`avy industrial development in the area seems less likely. Once-common industrial businesses in the Flathead Valley are fading or stagnant, and there are no rail lines in the area to move the materials and goods typically associated with larger industrial developments. Residential subdivisions are creeping along county lands closer to town. The growth policy area is now predominately surrounded by single-family residential homes and agricultural lands.

The Siderius family and their partners envision a different, broader use for the area.

“We want to create a self-sustained community, where people can work and live and shop and enjoy recreation all without traveling outside their neighborhood,” Jerry Nix, the project’s coordinator and broker, said. “And with growth in that part of the county, especially Somers and Lakeside, there’s a need for more services on that part of town.”

As the initial step for their subdivision, they requested an amendment to the growth policy for their property. The change would eliminate industrial and suburban residential designations in favor of commercial uses along the east half of the proposed Siderius Commons site and higher-density residential uses on the western half of the property.

When the request came before the city planning board, the board took those changes one step further, asking the planning office to also look at the amendment as it relates to the entire Highway 93 south area.

“The planning board’s question was, ‘Does industrial still make sense down here?’” Sean Conrad, Kalispell senior planner, said.

The planning department is now recommending the board and city council redefine the primary use north of Ashley Creek as “urban mixed use” – a combination of commercial, office, limited light industrial, single-family residential and apartment or condominium units. The growth policy loosely defines the south highway area as the lands south of Cemetery Road, east of Airport Road, west of Demersville Road and north of Rocky Cliff Drive.

The Kalispell City Council is scheduled to have a work session on Siderius Commons and the Highway 93 South growth policy amendments on Oct. 27.

Follow the Rats

Kalispell city officials have joked at council meetings that development and rats have one thing in common: They both follow the sewer. For the past two years, that has meant booming growth to the north of town.

In December 2006, the city council approved annexing the 325-acre Silverbrook Estates at the southwest corner of Church Drive and U.S. 93 – a little more than two miles north of Kalispell. At the time, some council members and local citizens questioned extending city services to an “island” of city land surrounded by rural Flathead County: Would neighboring landowners seek annexation in the near future to connect Silverbrook to Kalispell?

Those landowners quickly did. Today, north Kalispell, straddling U.S. 93, has replaced Evergreen as the city’s new commercial center, and housing projects – in various stages of development – are poised to dramatically increase the residential population there.

The development names are familiar to Kalispell residents. There’s the Starling subdivision – a project roughly equal to downtown Kalispell in size – that was approved in August. It will have 3,000 new homes on a square mile of land, to be built over the next 20 to 30 years. Westview Estates subdivision, Valley Ranch, and Stillwater Estates combined will add almost 1,000 homes to the area.

And then there’s the Glacier Town Center that will more than double north Kalispell’s commercial district – even after Hutton Ranch, another large commercial development, is completed – and add another 632 new homes.

But there are signs that, at least for a while, that north-side growth may be tempered, in part, by the utilities that helped spark it. The number and size of approved developments there will create more sewage than the current lines and pumping capacities can handle.

Last week, the city council delayed an upcoming vote on the Valley Ranch subdivision, an 81-acre planned-unit development near the future site of the Glacier Town Center, because of sewer capacity concerns.

Poised For Growth

There’s still plenty of sewer capacity, however, south of Kalispell.

Like with Silverbrook, the city annexed another island when it brought Old School Station into the city, extending sewer and water lines there in late 2006. And if the growth policy amendment passes, the area will be open for multiple uses beyond industrial.

“The city annexed really high on the north and the south with Silverbrook and Old School Station, with plans to fill in,” Conrad said. “That’s happened more on the north. But with the changes in the growth policy and more large landowners like the Sideriuses wanting to be annexed, the groundwork for growth would definitely be set to the south.”