Columbia Falls Planning Board Unanimously Approves Meadow Lake Development

The board passed along a positive recommendation to the city council for a 103-lot subdivision north of Columbia Falls

By Micah Drew
Signage for the Meadow Lake Resort Condos in Columbia Falls on Dec. 18, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Columbia Falls planning board unanimously voted to send a positive recommendation for a 47-acre subdivision preliminary plat to city council.

The Dec. 13 meeting drew a number of community members in person, surpassing the capacity of the meeting room and leaving several people crowded into the hallway outside. The development, called Tamarack Meadows, was proposed by Schellinger Construction with technical assistance by Carver Engineering, and would include 103 lots located on the northwest edge of the Meadow Lake Golf Course.

Several of those in attendance spoke in opposition to the development, citing the increase of traffic, proposed density and apparent speed at which the proposal made it into the official planning process.

“We understand progress, we understand growth and we understand that this guy wants to build houses,” Dan Singer, homeowners association president for nearby Meadow Lake West Estates, said after the meeting. “This huge development has been in the works for years, but it feels like they gave us less than a week since we heard about it. If we had a chance to embrace what’s going on, it would be more beneficial.”

The preliminary plat application was submitted in October. Columbia Falls Planning and Zoning Administrator Susan Nicosia dismissed suggestions that the development was rushed through the process during the holiday season.

“We’re not on holiday,” she said. “These are regular meetings that the public know about.”

More than 300 acres of the greater Meadow Lake properties have been part of a master development plan originally crafted in 1979. In that master plan, the Tamarack Meadows property was slated to contain 164 residential units, including several multi-family units. Subsequent development plans cut down the number of lots and removed multi-family units.

A previously approved preliminary plat of the property was granted in 2006 as part of a multi-phase subdivision called Tamarack Heights that included a total of 182 lots. Following the 2008 recession, only 46 lots were completed, and the remaining phases expired. In 2015, a subsequent owner developed 29 lots known as Mountain Watch.

Planner Eric Mulcahy said that the extensive history with the property makes the current proposal appealing as there’s been 40 years of approvals and improvements made in the area geared toward this phase of development, including the creation of a water and sewer district that services nearby subdivisions.

The proposal picks up on the undeveloped phases and follows the same design that was approved by Columbia Falls in 2006.  The 47-acre property will contain 103 single family lots and 17 acres of open space, including a publicly accessible gravel pathway.

A traffic impact study (TIS) submitted by the applicant showed that the subdivision will add roughly 900 additional vehicle trips per day to the ingress roads — Meadow Lake Drive and Tamarack Lane. To address the increased usage, the applicant has agreed to resurface Meadow Lake Drive and work with Flathead County to include traffic control measures to improve safety along those corridors.

Singer said the traffic measures are a major concern for Meadow Lake neighbors, especially as two other developments are proposed along Meadow Lake Boulevard. He said now that residents know the scope of the project, they would like to see more surveys done on the road impacts, as well as a proposal with larger lot sizes.

“This is changing our whole neighborhood,” Singer said. “No one’s fighting the development on its face. We’re fighting the size of it and the increase in traffic. The lots are postage-stamp sized. It doesn’t really fit in with the neighborhood.”

“Why not make half the lots and charge twice as much? It would flow with the neighborhood better,” he added. “It’s just a round peg in a square hole.”

Singer said he plans on rallying as many neighbors as possible to attend the Jan. 3 city council meeting where the plat will be discussed, including the “many Canadians” who live part-time in the area but have been unaware of the latest development.

Mulcahy said that since the project follows all legal processes, and has been in the works for so long, it should be approved by the city council.

“In the Meadow Lake developments, they have over 20 phases of various densities — condos, traditional lots, time shares, pretty much the full gamut of resort residential properties,” Mulcahy said. “This project complies not only with the growth policy, master plan and subdivision regulations, but it’s had 40 years of planning and approval along the way.”

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