Kalispell Green Lights 400-unit Development Near Stillwater River

In a 7-2 vote, the council approved the second phase of the Stillwater Bend project located at the Rose Crossing and U.S. Highway 93 intersection

By Maggie Dresser
Development along U.S. HIghway 93 near Rose Crossing on the northside of Kalispell on June 27, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Kalispell City Council on Monday approved the second phase of the Stillwater Bend development, which will bring more than 400 multifamily units to the 30-acre parcel at the intersection of Rose Crossing and U.S. Highway 93.

In a 7-2 vote, the project was greenlit in its second reading, with councilors Ryan Hunter and Jessica Dahlman voting against the planned unit development and the preliminary plat at the Dec. 18 and Dec. 4 meetings.

Councilors Hunter and Dahlman cited the reduced setback buffer from the Stillwater River in their decisions, which has been reduced from the city standard of 200 feet to 100 feet.

Located on the west side of Highway 93 at the Rose Crossing Intersection, the development will include urban and mixed use. In its first phase, commercial units will be built on the parcel adjacent to the highway while the second phase will entail constructing 432 multifamily units on the west side of the property next to the Stillwater River.

Construction on the development’s first phase had already begun with the installation of city utilities along with a traffic light at the Rose Crossing and Highway 93 intersection.

Future roadways are also planned for the area, including a potential bridge across the Stillwater River.

While the city standards include a 200-foot setback buffer from riparian habitats and wetlands, officials have allowed a 100-foot setback for the project as long as the developer restores the native riparian habitat.

New pavement and a traffic light at Rose Crossing on U.S. Highway 93 on the northside of Kalispell on June 27, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“While there were riparian shrub areas along the riverbank there were no identified wetlands adjacent to the property and only the river setback would apply,” Senior Planner PJ Sorensen said at the Dec. 4 meeting.

Councilor Hunter told the council that while he liked the project design, he opposed the project because of the setback deviations and said the buffer should be expanded instead of reduced to comply with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recommendation of 250 feet.

“The justification is there’s no riparian vegetation and it will be revegetated – but again – the standard for Fish, Wildlife and Parks is 250 feet as a vegetated buffer,” Hunter said at the Dec. 4 meeting.

“As much as I like the design and density, I can’t support the reduction in the buffer,” he added.

Councilor Dahlman echoed Hunter’s sentiments and acknowledged that while the original buffer would reduce the development space, she did not support the setback deviation. She was also concerned about the potential construction of a bridge over the Stillwater River and the pressure it would add to the watershed.

“If it comes down to it, I’m going to vote for the river,” Dahlman said.

Stillwater Bend developer Will MacDonald told the council that without the setback deviation, the project could lose four buildings and more than 100 units.

“We are encroaching in that 200-foot setback, but one could argue that we are going to repair and put forward more acreage,” MacDonald said. “I think it’s a net positive for the city – that’s how we justified it.”

Most of the councilors supported the development, applauding the density and road connectivity that the project will create.

“I’m going to vote to house people,” Councilor Chad Graham said. “I look at this piece of property and they are going to repair some of it, and I think it’s a well-blended approach to dealing with the setback.”

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