The Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee (BLUAC) on Thursday afternoon indefinitely postponed a hearing on a proposed 125-unit residential subdivision in Bigfork, turning a routine meeting into a contentious standoff between Bigfork residents opposed to the project and public officials, and culminating in the verbal harassment of BLUAC members, county staff and a representative from the developer.
The committee was set to hear three requests from engineering firm WGM Group, on behalf of Wyoming-based developer Longbow Land Partners, LLC, regarding the proposed Northshore Woods subdivision. The subdivision would create 125 single-family homes on 105 acres of land between Montana Highway 35 and Bigfork Stage Road.
The developers intended to request a zone change that would reduce the minimum lot size on the parcel from 1 acre to 20,000 square feet, or approximately half an acre. Following the zone change, the developers requested a preliminary planned use development (PUD) approval, which would allow additional deviations from the permitted zoning, including reducing the minimum lot size further from 20,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet and reducing the minimum lot width from 100 feet to 60 feet. Lastly, they requested that BLUAC approve the first phase of the Northshore Woods development, which would create the first 51 residential lots on the property.
However, before any of the three requests could be considered on Thursday afternoon, Michael Brodie, senior project engineer with WGM Group, pulled the files on behalf of the developer, postponing indefinitely any further hearings on the project.
Brodie told the committee that the developers had not received the staff report from the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Office until 2 p.m. that day, giving them insufficient time to review the office’s comments ahead of the 4 p.m. meeting.
Brodie’s request to pull the files and postpone the hearing triggered unrest in the audience of nearly 150 people who had gathered to offer public comment, largely in opposition to the project, with residents yelling out that this was a “bad way” for the developers to start this process, and with another meeting attendee attempting to make a motion to adjourn the meeting. Only members of BLUAC can make motions to adjourn meetings.
Though attendees demanded that BLUAC consider the proposals despite the developers’ request to pull the files, Flathead County planner Zachary Moon repeatedly stated that it is the developers’ right to postpone the hearings, and that BLUAC would not be legally allowed to discuss the application any further.
BLUAC Member Angela DeFries asked Moon why the developers had not received the staff report until 2 p.m. that day. Moon said that, generally, the staff report is sent out two days ahead of the meeting, and that it must have been a mailing issue.
In an email to the Beacon on Friday, Moon said, “With BLUAC, our official office policy is to send out staff reports to the Advisory Committee 2 days before the date of their hearing. So it was not a delay, just standard operating procedures.”
Despite Moon telling both BLUAC and the meeting attendees that they were not legally allowed to discuss the development after Brodie pulled the files, residents directed increasingly hostile questions and accusations at the committee, planning staff and Brodie.
One attendee yelled out that postponing the hearings was “a tactic” by the developers, and another said that at the next meeting, those who opposed the project would be “coming back with even more people.”
BLUAC Member Chany Ockert attempted to reassure residents that the committee was prohibited by law from discussing the development behind closed doors, and that if the developers chose to move forward, they would be required to have a series of public hearings in front of various county boards.
As the committee attempted to continue with the meeting, a group of attendees followed Brodie out of the building. Brodie told the group that he was happy to speak with them, and that he had been “blindsided” by the staff report and the lateness with which he received it. Outside of Bethany Lutheran Church, where the meeting was being held, an increasingly aggressive confrontation developed, with around 10 residents shouting at Brodie and accusing him of being a “pawn” of the developers.
One attendee said to Brodie, “You’re coming into our f––g town and f––g it up.”
In a conversation that echoed a sweeping resistance to new housing developments across the Flathead Valley, residents referenced the fight over a proposed development off of KM Ranch Road and U.S. Highway 93 north of Kalispell, and said that developers like Brodie and Longbow Land Partners wanted to fundamentally reshape the area’s small towns.
Brodie told the Beacon that in the staff report, the county planning department highlighted a number of issues with the proposal, which he did not have time to address in the two hours before the meeting. He said that there would have been no purpose in holding a lengthy hearing on a proposal that needed significant changes.
Brodie — who has worked on a number of high-profile housing developments across Flathead County — said that he sees Northshore Woods as a way to increase housing inventory in a valley that has seen a growing affordable housing crisis in recent years.
Though the housing market in the Flathead Valley has cooled in recent months, residents are still faced with exorbitant prices when it comes to buying or renting a home. The median sales price for a home in Flathead County sat at $575,000 in May 2023, compared to $349,500 in May 2020.
Should the developers choose to continue pursuing the project, hearings on the Northshore Woods development will be held at an unspecified later date.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.