The Flathead County Commissioners voted unanimously Aug. 31 against a zone change request from the company Location Acquisitions LLC for a 12.44-acre property off Highway 2 east of the Flathead River and north of Big Sky Water Park in the Twin Bridges Zoning District.
The zone change would have allowed the land to be developed at a density of one unit per acre (R-1 suburban residential zoning), as opposed to the current zoning (SAG-10 suburban agricultural), which allows development on a scale of one unit per 10 acres. Going into the commissioner’s meeting, the property in question, which is owned by a company associated with the Florida-based developer Rishi Kapoor, is now listed for sale for $899,000. Kapoor is the former CEO of Location Ventures, the company which had unsuccessfully sought approval from the City of Columbia Falls for a proposed development east of the Flathead River, called the 7030 Hwy 2 Residences, which involved plans for 180 units of housing on 22.5 acres of land.
In June, the Miami Herald newspaper in Florida reported that Kapoor is the subject of investigations by the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission for his business dealings in South Florida, including payments made to Miami Mayor Francis Suarez for consulting work.
Kapoor stepped down from his position as the CEO of Location Ventures in July and that the company had appointed former Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alan Fine to oversee liquidation of company assets. The Herald also reported in July that Kapoor was being sued by investors who allege he owes them $25 million.
Location Acquisitions LLC, the company behind the zone change request, is registered to the same Florida address as Location Ventures, and lists Kapoor under the title of manager.
Multiple times throughout the hearing, commissioners remarked that they were not allowed to consider any legal issues the person requesting the zone change may be having. Kapoor was not in attendance, and there were no representatives on behalf of Location Acquisitions LLC at the meeting. Location Acquisitions had previously been working with KLJ Engineering, the same engineering firm which had worked on the 7030 Hwy 2 Residences development. Mark Rohweder, an engineer with KLJ, presented on behalf of the developer at a Flathead County Planning Board meeting earlier in the summer. That meeting took place just days after the Herald reported the federal investigations into Kapoor’s business dealings. The planning board at that meeting decided to take more time to deliberate on the request and render a decision at its next meeting, during which they voted to deliver a negative recommendation to the county commissioners.
About 15 people attended the recent county commissioner’s meeting, with more than half of them deliver comments, all of which were to urge the commissioners to vote against the zone change.
Shirley Folkwein, the president of the Upper Flathead Neighborhood Association, a nonprofit group made up of some of the residents who live near the property in question, mentioned safety issues regarding egress and ingress from the lot, and referenced the property’s proximity to the Badrock Canyon Wildlife Management Area. She also suggested there could be negative environmental impacts from septic systems that could come as a result of the zone change.
“This zone change does not fit the character of the neighborhood. Again, the planning board agreed with this, as they did with the safety issues. A zone change is the beginning of a slippery slope leading to all-out development, including the potential for a PUD overlay allowing for high-density housing on this land critical to the wildlife managmenet area and to the Flathead River Basin Watershed,” Folkwein said.
In wrapping up her remarks, she pointed out the liquidation of Location Ventures, the fact that the property was being sold, and that there was no representative there on behalf of the zone change request.
“Which, to me, is an indication that things are a bit shaky with this whole operation,” Folkwein said.
Thursday morning’s hearing briefly devolved at one point into shouting, and a threat from Commissioner Brad Abell to clear the room. The confusion and anger from the audience came after the commissioners unanimously voted through the findings of fact on the request, but before they had voted on whether or not to approve the zone change request.
David Ovitz, a member of the audience who had spoken during public comment against the request, accused the commissioners of having “bulldozed” through the zone change after they had voted on the findings of fact, even though that had not yet voted on the zone change. Other audience members complained that they couldn’t understand Flathead County Planning Director Erik Mack as he quickly read through each finding of fact.
Commissioner Pam Holmquist then offered some explanation of how the process worked, and indicated that the Mack’s reading of the findings is something required by law, and she indicated that due to those findings being available to the public in advance of the meeting she hoped that those in attendance had already read them.
Holmquist then delivered another reminder about what the commissioners could consider in making their decision.
“We cannot consider any legal issues this person may be having. That’s not something in our purview. That’s not something we can get into. That is totally separate from what we’re looking at today. All we’re looking at today is a zone change. That’s it.”
Holmquist then said she thought that members of the audience, more than 10 of whom spoke out against the zone change request, had made some good comments. She went on to say that reading through the documents, the developer had talked about affordable housing, something she said is a “subjective” term meaning different things to different people.
“I believe there are legitimate concerns going from say SAG-10 to R-1. I think the area probably does not support that. I don’t support that,” Holmquist said.
Commissioner Randy Brodehl said he thought the zone change was “too big a leap” for the area, and that it was out of character.
“I think putting some more time looking into this, if we do an expansion of this, it needs to be considered more as an urban area than as a residential area, but I don’t think we’re at that point yet, so I’m not going to support this.”
Staff had found that the request did not constitute spot zoning, but Commissioner Brad Abell said he considered the request to be spot zoning, and he said he could not support the zone change request.
“And I’ll just say this, for the record, that some of you guys don’t do a lot of good for your position when you disrupt our meeting. But in spite of that, I am against this development.”
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.