Single-Family Subdivision Proposal Draws Opposition from Neighbors and Support from Workforce

Dozens of residents voiced their opinions about an annexation and development proposal on a 110-acre property near Tronstad Road at a May 20 public hearing

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 City Council on Monday heard public comment from a room full of residents who provided a range of opinions concerning a development proposal that would bring 380 single-family homes to 110 acres near Tronstad Road.

The Kalispell Planning Commission last month approved a growth policy amendment, annexation and zoning change, and preliminary plat for the Tronstad Meadows and Whitetail Crossing development.

Following the widespread public response to the proposal at the planning commission meeting, the city on May 20 hosted a public hearing before the proposal heads to the city council in the coming months for a decision.

Proposed by former Republican lawmakers Frank Garner and Jon Sonju, the development is located near the intersection of U.S. Highway 93 and Tronstad Road. They plan to build homes on a mixture of small, medium and large lots ranging from 6,000 to 10,000 square feet to create homeownership opportunities for the local workforce.

“When we started this project, our mission from the beginning was to provide single-family housing options below, at, and above the median price,” Garner said at the hearing. “We’ve tried to answer the call for housing and more density … we’ve rejected the calls for 40 septics and stand-alone water systems and million-dollar houses on two-and-a-half-acre lots.”

The property currently is located north of Kalispell city limits and is zoned in Flathead County for 40 homes and Senior Planner PJ Sorensen said at the April planning commission meeting that 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.

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 the existing service area of the fire department; and the annexation achieves key goals in the growth policy.

The public hearing drew dozens of residents to council chambers, including neighbors who opposed the project while also drawing support from the local workforce who emphasized the importance of adding more housing inventory.

“The Flathead Valley needs more housing with prices that police officers and other public safety professionals can afford,” said Mark Mulcahy of the Flathead County Sherriff’s Office. “With such a limited amount of housing available, we have public safety professionals living in temporary campers. Additionally, we struggle to recruit individuals for our workforce and have had qualified candidates turn down position due to the housing costs.”

Multiple educators also spoke in support of the project and acknowledged that while the development might not be affordable on a teacher’s salary, it still added housing inventory to the Flathead.

“We absolutely need housing – we need it,” Glacier High School teacher Cody Hoon said. “I am for this because this is an earnest move on behalf of developers to do what they can in an economy like this to provide community members like myself to be able to potentially stay here and live here.”

Neighbors who live near the development proposal, however, were strongly opposed to the project and cited issues like traffic congestion, safety, lack of emergency services and overcrowded schools and said it would change the area’s rural character.

Mayre Flowers of Citizens for a Better Flathead said she felt the proposal was rushed and that it didn’t go far enough to guarantee affordable homeownership. She suggested working with nonprofit partners like the Northwest Montana Community Land Trust or forming deed restrictions.

“We think that simply building more houses has not resulted in the affordability that is so needed, and we really need to take a new perspective,” Flowers said.

Other residents also believed that officials were not taking enough time to review the proposal and felt there were better areas to build housing.

“I absolutely oppose this development in general,” Kelly Shaw said. “I think it is in the wrong place – I think there are a lot of areas for really good development in Kalispell. I’m concerned about how quickly they’re trying to rush this through.”

Inadequate road infrastructure was also a major concern for neighbors who said the current traffic flow was already dangerous.

“I disapprove and I strongly recommend to keep this as it is right now,” Erik Anderson said. “The infrastructure is not there – the transportation is not there.”

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.

Eric Mulcahy of Sands Surveying said he is working with the developers and the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) to install right and left turn lanes on Tronstad Road and Silverbrook Drive, traffic signals at the intersection with U.S. Highway 93 and a deceleration lane.

“All the improvements will be done with phase one … it would be similar to Rose Crossing where the developers put those improvements in and MDT installed those lights when they were ready,” Mulcahy said.

Developers acknowledged the complaints and opposition related to the proposal but defended the project as part of the solution for attainable housing in the Flathead Valley as the local workforce struggles to become homeowners.

“The Flathead looks a lot different from when I grew up here and it’s going to keep changing and I recognize it’s hard for people – I really do,” Sonju said. “There’s no single solution to address the high cost of housing, however, we owe it to the many middle-income families and public service professionals who are trying to maintain their workforce.”

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