City Planning Commission Approves 380 Single-family Home Development in North Kalispell

Planning commissioners approved the annexation and development for the 110-acre property near Tronstad Road; the proposal will head to the Kalispell City Council in the coming months

By Maggie Dresser
Site of a the proposed Tronstad Meadows and Whitetail Crossing 380 single family home development on 110 acres north of Kalispell, pictured April 10, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Kalispell Planning Commission on April 9 green-lit a growth policy amendment, annexation and zoning change, and preliminary plat for a development proposal that would bring 380 single-family homes to 110 acres near Tronstad Road, despite widespread opposition from neighbors.

Proposed by former Republican lawmakers Frank Garner and Jon Sonju, the Tronstad Meadows and Whitetail Crossing development was approved by planning board commissioners in a 4-to-1 vote, with President Chad Graham in opposition of the project.

The proposal will head to the Kalispell City Council next month where councilors will vote on the growth policy amendment at a May 6 meeting followed by the zoning and preliminary plat resolutions at its June 3 meeting.

Located near the intersection of U.S. Highway 93 and Tronstad Road, the 110-acre lot is planned to include a mixture of small, medium and large lots ranging from 6,000 to 10,0000 square feet to create homeownership opportunities for working families, if approved, according to Garner.

The property currently lies north of Kalispell city limits and is zoned in Flathead County for 40 homes and Senior Planner PJ Sorensen said the annexation would be a “logical extension of the city.” If annexed, a future development would connect to city utilities instead of each residence having individual septic tanks.

“One of the most significant issues related to the proposal is the question of annexation” Sorensen said. “The annexation policy was adopted by the city in 2011 and it became part of the growth policy.”

According to the growth policy, the property does not lie within the annexation boundary, but Sorensen said the proposal meets the criteria of the city’s annexation protocol.

The criteria includes direct annexation, which means the property lies in the immediate path of the additional annexations to form a logical extension of the city; the property lies within existing service area of the fire department; and the annexation achieves key goals in the growth policy.

“The proposal meets all the criteria for direct annexation,” Sorenson said.

Site of a the proposed Tronstad Meadows and Whitetail Crossing 380 single family home development on 110 acres north of Kalispell, pictured April 10, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Sorenson also said the annexation would make sense because multiple neighboring parcels have joined the city in recent years, including the Quail Meadows, Ponderosa Lane and Dusty Acres developments.

However, dozens of residents who live in the neighborhood near the proposed development spoke in opposition of the project at public comment during the Tuesday night meeting that lasted more than five hours. Neighbors cited concerns about high density, historic agricultural use, traffic congestion, lack of road infrastructure and pressure on public schools and emergency resources.

Kalispell staff also fielded questions about the city’s water infrastructure, which some public members were concerned about after the recent discovery of PFAS contaminants in two of the municipal drinking water wells. Sorensen also added that a water well exists on the property, which was historically used for agriculture and could supplement the city’s water production.

“There is adequate capacity with the city’s water system to accommodate this subdivision with the connection,” Sorenson said.

Brian Kelly, a resident whose property borders the proposed development site, said he has the water rights to the well that’s located on the adjacent parcel and said nobody has communicated to him about it.

“The water that’s referred to in these documents – I have the rights to that well,” Kelly said. “Nobody has ever talked to me about it. The DNRC tells me that they can’t proceed without my input. If I have the rights to that well, why hasn’t anybody come and spoken to me?”

Public members also said the proposal did not fit within the character of the neighborhood, which entails multi-acre properties, and some residents said there was a slew of inaccuracies in the application like discrepancies about the landscape.

“It’s a very rural community – it’s very agricultural,” Colby Shaw said. “That 110 acres that they’re looking at to do a subdivision on was farmed and irrigated as of last October. In 2023, they were still doing alfalfa so it’s very agricultural. The application (says) there’s no trees – there’s a band of trees on the proposed subdivision all the way around it … so that application, in my opinion, is not accurate.”

Sorensen said the property was not currently utilized for agriculture.

Garner told the board that he has hosted several listening sessions with neighbors who he has visited with in recent months to discuss the potential project and said despite the communication, he said he has received negative feedback from some residents.

“There were false and defamatory statements made in public comment,” Garner said. “What I would say to those individuals is it’s difficult to treat you as a serious partner and listen when those kinds of comments are made … I think you’re going to find that (the report) is a well-presented and constructed application that we’ve worked closely with the city to try to provide.”

Sonju also defended the staff report but said he empathized with residents who don’t want to see their neighborhood change.

“I remember riding my horses up and down on 93 and even to Tronstad,” Sonju said. “I understand the growth, I understand people here testifying in opposition. I get it, but I guess my other point is – you know who is not here? Who’s not here is the people looking for attainable housing.”

A lack of road infrastructure was also a major concern for neighbors, although a traffic light would eventually be installed at the U.S. Highway 93 and Tronstad Road intersection at a date that would be determined by the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT).

Currently, no southbound turns are permitted for traffic exiting the area west via Tronstad Road. The only other route to leave the area is to the east to Whitefish Stage Road, which has vehicle weight limits.

Chad Graham, the only planning commissioner who did not support the project, said the traffic safety aspect of the development, especially during construction, concerned him and he felt that the intersection should be upgraded before the project begins.

“I have this feeling that this development for that reason is situated in the wrong spot,” Graham said.

However, Kalispell Development Services Director Jarod Nygren said MDT officials had to follow guidelines relating to traffic light installation and the timing would be uncertain.

Amid the opposition, one neighbor expressed her frustration with the lack of housing in the Flathead and said she hears the same argument against housing proposals in other areas like Whitefish.

“This is an issue we can’t just push off to the next neighborhood,” Jill Davis said. “It affects everyone in one way or another.”

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