River Highlands Withdrawn A Second Time

The developer has indicated an interest in working with city officials to find a plan that could be supported by the city and still involve housing

By Mike Kordenbrock
A field along River Road in Columbia Falls is the site of the proposed 455-unit River Highlands development, pictured on June 28, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Despite withdrawing the application for the River Highlands development for a second time in late January, city officials in Columbia Falls say a developer remains interested in finding a way to build housing on the 49-acre property east of the Flathead River and south of U.S. Highway 2.

On the afternoon of Jan.27, just a few days before the development was scheduled to appear before the Columbia Falls City Council for a special meeting to consider approval, developer James Barnett emailed Columbia Falls Planning Director Eric Mulcahy to notify him that he would like to withdraw the application.

Similar to when Barnett withdrew an application for River Highlands in August, the development was headed before the council without a recommendation of approval from the Columbia Falls Planning Board, despite the board being presented this time around with a scaled-down version of the project with lower density and more than 100 fewer total units of housing. Before voting against the project, members of the planning board described concerns with the project’s density, its burdens on city utilities, its incompatibility with the community’s character, and concerns about traffic congestion and traffic safety.

There is no limit to how many times an application can be withdrawn and resubmitted, although the withdrawal does mean that the process will start over for River Highlands should another version of the development reach the city in a new application.

“It is not uncommon for projects to pull and resubmit when there is significant opposition,” Mulcahy told the Beacon on Feb. 6. “When the Talbott Road neighborhood first converted land to urban subdivision back in 1995 there was similar backlash. In that instance the city went through a planning process with the neighborhood and then that applicant resubmitted. Now, that neighborhood has the middle school, a medical center and numerous subdivisions.”

Mulcahy also said the developer of River Highlands has indicated he wants to have workshops with the city council to try and figure out a plan that can be supported by the board and provide housing for the community.

Upper Flathead Neighborhood Association, a nonprofit group that organized opposition to River Highlands, is already trying to rally people to speak out if they have concerns about another development scheduled to appear before the Columbia Falls Planning Board on Feb. 14. That development is intended for an area near the River Highlands property, but north of Highway 2 and further east of the Flathead River.

An introductory letter from KLJ Engineering said the application was being submitted on behalf of Rishi Kapoor and Location Acquisitions, a Florida-based real estate business. The project, applied for under the name 7030 Hwy 2 Residences, was submitted by 500 River Partners LLC out of Coral Gables, Florida. High Country Land and Cattle (MT) LLC was also listed on the application as an owner with a Phoenix, Arizona address. Another owner listed on the application is Twin Peaks Farms LLC out of Eagle, Idaho.

The developers are requesting a zone change and a planned unit development with 180 residential units, broken down into 99 single family attached units and 81 apartment units. The density would be 7.9 units per acre on a total of 22.5 acres of land, with 55% of the site kept as park space and open space. 

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