Contentious Lakeside Subdivision Put on Hold

By Beacon Staff

Flathead County Commissioners voted last week to ratify the withdrawal of controversial phases of a proposed Lakeside subdivision, effectively negating a lawsuit seeking to stop the final phases of the development.

Eagle’s Crest, a subdivision with nine development phases located west of U.S. Highway 93, would have added over 1,000 residences to Lakeside. It sits on 1,353 acres, or roughly two square miles, and would have included a golf course and an airstrip as amenities for its residents.

Trevor Schaefer, manager of the subdivision’s development company Montana Eagle Acquisitions, LLC, said the final phases were vacated because of the poor economy. With a year extension on the project, the development would need to break ground in 2011, Schaefer said. He added that it wasn’t worth spending the money on legal fees with a down market.

Schaefer said his company will submit subdivision plans in the future, with changes made based on the housing market and consumer demand.

“We’re definitely not walking away from this development,” Schaefer said.

All phases of the Eagle’s Crest development had been approved by the county commissioners by November 2007, but Phases 5 through 9 were stalled after the Flathead Lake Protection Association filed a lawsuit claiming the commissioners did not follow planning procedures, lacked essential information and violated state and county subdivision regulations.

The lawsuit alleged the county violated 1987 Master Plan regulations by accepting incomplete or inaccurate information, namely on faulty soil tests. It also contended that the public was not given adequate access to all of the planning information.

FLPA President Bruce Young said he had many problems with Phases 5 through 9 of the development. Among them were concerns about storm water drainage affecting Flathead Lake, the population density disrupting a wild game range, the airstrip affecting a nearby creek and the wildfire risk.

There were also concerns about the proposed sewer arrangement, which would have allowed 800 new connections to the Lakeside sewer system. Young said he was worried about future costs to expand the sewer’s mainline to handle the increased capacity.

After the plans were vacated last week, Young expressed displeasure that the commissioners approved the final phases in the first place.

He said the FLPA plans on staying involved in any future projects in the area and asserted that the group is not anti-development, but hopes to see future proposals with lower population densities in that area.

“We’re happy to try and work with whomever decides to do something with that land, but in a manner that has respect for the winter game range, for the high fire area, for the steep slopes, the type of soil and obviously the drainage into Flathead Lake,” Young said.

There was little commotion over the first four phases of the project, which have already been built and will not be affected. Phase 1 of the gated community proposed 15 lots on 172 acres. Phases 2, 3 and 4 added 185 proposed lots and a private airfield.

The FLPA took legal action after the commissioners approved Phases 5 through 9, which added 821 residential lots, roughly 70 commercial lots and an 18-hole golf course.

FLPA members said the new lots would sit on land unfitting such population density, with poor soil, steep slope and a wildlife range.

The subdivision took a lengthy and complicated journey through the planning stages, with the timeline highlighted by multiple hearings and additions of new information from the developer.

The Flathead County Planning Board initially denied recommendation for approval of Phases 5 through 9 on May 16, 2007, with concerns including fire hazards created by a “bottleneck” road design, the disruption of wildlife corridors and a lack of storm water drainage monitoring.

After the developer submitted new information to address some of those concerns, and after a series of delays to give the public enough time to review the updated application, the planning board took it up again on Sept. 10. Then, the board voted 5-4 to recommend approval on Phases 5 through 9 with two conditions: no guesthouses and an additional road out of the development, both meant to mitigate fire risks. These suggestions coincided with the approval recommendation from the planning department, planning officials said.

When the commissioners approved Phases 5 through 9 on Nov. 6, 2007, they removed the two stipulations set forth by the planning board and planning office, losing support from both bodies. The vote was 2-1 with Commissioner Joe Brenneman dissenting.

The FLPA filed their lawsuit against the commissioners on Dec. 6, 2007, leaving the matter in court for almost two years.

On Oct. 13, 2009, planning officials informed county commissioners that the developer had verbally vacated Phases 5 through 9 of the proposed subdivision. Consequently, Flathead County District Court records show a Notice of Mootness filed on the lawsuit against the phases on Oct. 9, effectively ending it.

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