Council to Continue Consideration of Development East of Flathead River at April 17 Meeting

The 7030 Highway 2 Residences hearing was moved to the Columbia Falls High School Little Theater

By Mike Kordenbrock
A rendering depicting the proposed 7030 Highway 2 Residences development in Columbia Falls. Courtesy image

After deciding last month to delay a decision on the 7030 Highway 2 Residences, the Columbia Falls City Council will resume the decision-making portion of its prior meeting on April 17 for the development proposed for an area east of the Flathead River by Florida-based development business Location Ventures.

The meeting will also take place at a different venue than recent large city council and planning board meetings. Instead of the Columbia Falls Jr. High cafetorium, the upcoming meeting will take place at the Little Theater at Columbia Falls High School. The council already concluded the public hearing portion of the meeting at its March meeting, and so it can no longer receive or consider comments on the matter.

After hours of public comment and developer presentations related to the project at the council’s March 20 meeting, Mayor Don Barnhart suggested the council continue the hearing on the development at a later date. Barnhart described wanting to both have the full council present, Councilor Jenny Lovering was not present at the March 20 meeting, and a desire to have more time to think about the information they received. The council agreed with Barnhart’s suggestion, but scheduling conflicts left it immediately unresolved as to when the hearing would be continued.

Location Ventures CEO Rishi Kapoor said in an emailed statement after the meeting that he trusts the process city staff and the city council are following.

“And I look forward to providing any additional information they need as they complete their review. We are committed to this proposal, which is two years of intentional design and valuable stakeholder input in the making, and we hope it will be judged fairly on the merits of how it comports with the city’s Growth Policy and the ongoing needs of the Columbia Falls community,” Kapoor said.

U.S. Hwy 2 crosses the Flathead River east of Columbia Falls on Feb. 9, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

City Manager Susan Nicosia said that April 17 is the date they settled on because it falls on the council’s regular meeting schedule, and because of the theater’s availability.

The 7030 Highway 2 Residences are proposed for 22.5 acres of land located directly east of the Flathead River and north of Highway 2. The developer has asked for a zone change to build with greater density on the land, which is currently suburban agriculture in its zoning but designated in the 2019 Columbia Falls Growth Policy for urban residential zoning.

Location Ventures has presented plans that would involve 180 units of housing achieved through a mixture of 99 units in single-family attached townhouses, and another 81 units of apartments. Of the acreage, 55% would be designated for open space. The developer has said that the project is planned for rentals. Utilities would be connected to the project either by boring beneath the Flathead River, or by connecting piping aboveground to a nearby bridge.

Schematic showing the layout of the proposed 7030 Highway 2 Residences development in Columbia Falls. Courtesy image

City staff initially recommended conditional approval of the project, but the Columbia Falls City-County Planning Board voted almost unanimously to reject the project. The only board member not to vote to reject the project was Mike Shepard, who was absent from the meeting. Shepard is also a member of the city council.

Planning board members described concerns about the development’s impacts to groundwater and wildlife, including wildlife corridors and the nearby Bad Rock Canyon Wildlife Management Area. Other concerns centered on pedestrian access, the development’s character in relation to the surrounding area, city infrastructure needs, the traffic study the developer commissioned, and impacts to wetlands.

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