Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee Recommends Denial of Proposed Subdivision

The committee on July 27 voted against a proposed 125-unit residential development, citing concerns over infrastructure and the character of Bigfork

By Denali Sagner
Bigfork Harbor and Flathead Lake on June 13, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee (BLUAC) on July 27 voted to deny recommendation of three requests by a Wyoming-based developer seeking to build 125 residential homes on 105 acres of land in Bigfork.

The three requests were brought by engineering firm WGM Group on behalf of Longbow Land Partners, LLC, and sought approval on a zone change, a planned unit development (PUD), and a preliminary plat for the first phase of the subdivision, called Northshore Woods, which would involve the construction of an initial 51 single-family homes.

The nearly six-hour long BLUAC meeting last week marked the culmination of a drawn out fight between the developers and Bigfork residents.

Last month, nearly 150 Bigfork residents gathered at a BLUAC meeting where the committee was initially scheduled to consider the three proposals related to Northshore Woods. BLUAC, however, postponed the consideration of the applications after the developers pulled the applications, stating that they received the report from the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Office without sufficient time to review it.

At the rescheduled meeting last week, attendees voiced concerns that the proposed subdivision would overwhelm schools, roads, and water and sewer infrastructure, and said that it would diminish what they described as the quaint, small-town nature of Bigfork. More than 100 people attended the meeting on July 27, and around 20 spoke in opposition to Northshore Woods, according to the Bigfork Eagle.

In three separate requests to BLUAC, the developers sought a zone change, a PUD zoning overlay and the approval of a preliminary plat.

The 105-acre parcel of land is currently zoned RC-1, residential cluster, and R-1, suburban residential, which mandate a minimum of one lot per acre. The developers requested that the property be rezoned to R-2, one family limited residential, which mandates a minimum of one lot per approximately half an acre.

Additionally, the developers requested a preliminary PUD, or a variance from the established zoning which the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Department characterizes as “an overlay in zoned areas that creates flexibility for a developer and in return the public gets greater input in a project.” If approved, the PUD would allow the developers to increase the total number of units from 105 to 125.

Following the zone change and PUD, the developers requested approval of the preliminary plat for the first phase of Northshore Woods, which would include the creation of 51 residential lots.

Staff from the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Department delivered a mixed verdict in their analysis of the Northshore Woods plans last month, stating that the zone change and preliminary plat generally complied with existing policies and the character of the area, but that the PUD “may not be in the public’s best interest.”

Six of the seven BLUAC members voted to deny recommendation of the three proposals, citing concerns over public safety, traffic, infrastructure, school capacity and neighborhood compatibility.

“My personal decisions were based on the fact that the level of safety in the community was going to decline significantly,” BLUAC member Shelley Gonzales, who voted in opposition to the requests, told the Beacon.

Gonzales said that she had concerns about increasing traffic in Bigfork, especially during the winter months, when roads and highways are covered in snow and ice for months.

“Peaceful Drive is dangerous. It’s icy in the winter,” Gonzales said. “I just can’t see adding so much more danger to our community by having that development go forward.”

In their report on Northshore Woods, Flathead County planning staff noted that the current development proposal could increase traffic along Bigfork Stage by 102% and along Peaceful Drive by 626%.

Chany Ockert was the only BLUAC member to vote to recommend approval of the applications, citing both a need for affordable housing Bigfork and the flexibility that the PUD would give the community during the development process.

Ockert noted that under the current zoning, the developers would still be permitted to build 105 housing units on the property. The zone change and PUD, she said, would give the community greater input on how those units would be constructed, and would give the developers flexibility to cater the project more specifically towards Bigfork.

“I felt that there were some people in the community that thought that the choice was between vacant or this application. That’s not the choice. This lot is going to be developed,” she said.

Ockert also cited a need for housing, both in Bigfork and the Flathead Valley at large. While Northshore Woods is not allotted specifically as affordable housing, Ockert said that an increase in available housing units would alleviate pressure on locals, who are struggling to stay in the increasingly expensive village.

The median sales price for a home in Bigfork sat at $775,000 in Jan. 2023, as compared to $332,500 in Jan. 2020.

The three Northshore Woods applications will go before the Flathead County Planning Board on Aug. 9 at 6 p.m. before heading to the county commissioners for a final vote. The agenda for the planning board meeting can be found here.

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