The Evergreen Question

As the unincorporated community east of Kalispell continues to grow, the questions of how and where are still in flux

By Molly Priddy
U.S. Highway 2 in Evergreen on June 20, 2018. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

The little community of Evergreen has always faced the question of its future, of how the unincorporated town just east of Kalispell would like to continue to grow.

Perhaps one of the best recent examples of the debate happened late into the night in April, when a crowd of Evergreen neighbors spent hours telling the Flathead County Planning Board about how, exactly, they did not want to grow.

At question was a 122-unit, 33-acre proposed mobile-home park situated just west of Evergreen school. Dozens of people spoke in opposition to the West Evergreen Estates project, telling the planning board that adding a mobile-home park in that location would decrease their property values and overload the current infrastructure in place.

“We feel like we’re being completely unheard,” Derek Vandeberg, who lives near the proposed project, said at the April 12 meeting. “You’re essentially taking money out of our pockets if this continues.”

As an unincorporated area, Evergreen doesn’t have a city council to make unified decisions, nor a local police force. Land issues, including zoning, fall under the purview of Flathead County, and law enforcement is up to the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.

The comments at the planning board meeting touched on the busyness of West Evergreen Drive, how the road is already packed at high-traffic times, and how the nearby school would have to absorb new families.

However, a different subdivision plan, the 57-lot Helena Crossing on Helena Flats Road, received approval from the planning board, and its preliminary plat was approved by the Flathead County Commission on May 14.

So it’s not so much a question of will Evergreen grow — because it is growing — but rather of how.

TJ Wendt, who owns a State Farm Insurance branch in Evergreen, serves as the economic development chair of the Evergreen Area Chamber of Commerce, which is the de facto organizing group in Evergreen. From his perspective, Evergreen is cooking right along.

“Business occupancies in Evergreen are as high as they’ve ever been, and dirt is selling along (U.S.) Highway 2,” Wendt said last week. “We’re welcoming CHS and the rail park with open arms. We’re well prepared for the industrial manufacturing potential in this area.”

The Evergreen chamber, which started six years ago, pushed the idea of an enterprise overlay zone in 2013, which allowed for light industrial uses along the area’s commercial corridor. It was a way to open up for more business, but also use existing buildings.

Bev Ferris, outgoing director of the Evergreen chamber, said the overlay was one example of how the chamber hopes to help the area move forward.

“With most things in Evergreen, it’s a very supportive community of each other. Evergreen residents are proud of their homeownerships and their business ownerships,” Ferris said. “The businesses have been improving the community.”

Trail West Bank issued $5,000, no-interest loans available for businesses to upgrade their exteriors, Ferris said, and neighborhoods are slowly but surely making improvements.

It’s cheaper to live in Evergreen than in one of the municipalities, such as next-door neighbor Kalispell, because there aren’t city taxes. Flathead County Commissioner Pam Holmquist, who lives in Evergreen, said affordability is a reason the county needs an area like Evergreen.

“I really think Evergreen is a great place to be; I think our taxes are a little lower because we are unincorporated,” Holmquist said. “Right now it’s fairly affordable to live here.”

Wendt believes the area is going to be ripe for single-family homes that buyers can’t find in city limits due to price or lot limitations.

“I think people are looking more toward, ‘Hey, maybe we can get into the $200,000, $300,000 homes,” Wendt said.

Residents recently made it clear they do not want new taxes after a proposed levy to permanently pay for emergency services provided by Evergreen Fire Rescue failed on the May ballot.

“I think the reason the (levy) didn’t pass was because we’re not a municipality, and for us to have it, it has to get paid in some way, but it’s all on (property owners’) backs,” Wendt said. “That’s probably part of the dynamic of why that got beat — we’re not interested in a full-time fire department.”

On the other hand, the Flathead County Sheriff’s Posse has entered into a buy-sell agreement for the roller rink on Shady Lane, which formerly housed the Boys and Girls Club. The posse is accepting donations to help them pay for the building in order to set up a substation headquarters there for a bigger law enforcement presence in Evergreen.

“That’s huge,” Holmquist said.

Wendt said the chamber would like to see the traffic bottleneck on West Reserve fixed, and as such, the chamber supports the full build-out of the U.S. 93 Alternate Route. He said the chamber would also like to see bike paths connect through Evergreen to the rest of the county trails, and that if the Willow Glen connector project comes to fruition, it will be a relief valve for traffic.

Incorporating the area would be expensive, Holmquist said, as would annexing Evergreen into Kalispell because taxes would increase. Residents are finding a balance between amenities and taxes, she said.

“Until the folks in Evergreen want to become part of Kalispell or incorporate themselves, Evergreen has a place in our community, in Flathead County,” Holmquist said. “It’s affordable, and we need that. Evergreen is beautiful.”

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.