Kalispell Council Denies Zone Change for Tronstad Meadows and Whitetail Crossing Development

Councilors cited traffic safety concerns surrounding a subdivision that would have brought 380 single-family homes to a 110-acre property near Tronstad Road

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 denied a zoning change requested by local developers that would have brought 380 single-family homes to 110 acres off of U.S. Highway 93 in a proposal called the Tronstad Meadows and Whitetail Crossing development.

In a 5-4 vote, the city council rejected a zoning change that would have altered the zoning to R-3 and brought higher density to the area with councilors Jessica Dahlman, Jed Fisher, Ryan Hunter, Chad Graham and Mayor Mark Johnson in opposition to the change.

While the zone change failed, the council approved a growth policy change and annexation that brings the property into city limits in two separate 7-2 votes with councilors Jessica Dahlman and Jed Fisher in opposition.

The council did not vote on the preliminary plat following the denial of the zone change.

The Tronstad Meadows and Whitetail Crossing proposal located near the intersection of U.S. Highway 93 and Tronstad Road was the brainchild of former Republican lawmakers Frank Garner and Jon Sonju, who planned to build 380 single-family homes on lots ranging from 6,000 to 10,000 square feet. Developers planned to build homes that were at, above and below the local median housing price.

While some councilors liked the proposal, they also cited safety concerns surrounding the high density that the development would bring to U.S. Highway 93 and Whitefish Stage Road.

“We are truly putting the size of the town of Eureka or Browning on this section of land with roads that suck,” Fisher said. “There are just too many safety issues.”

Since the proposal was approved by the Kalispell Planning Commission in April, it has drawn widespread criticism from neighbors who provided public comment at multiple meetings and cited issues like a lack of emergency services and traffic congestion and safety. They were also concerned that the development would change the area’s rural character and argued it would not help ease the housing crisis as the developers said it will.

The development would have also entailed a collaboration with 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.

But the upgraded infrastructure was not enough for some councilors to approve the zoning change.

“Now what we have is a subdivision that’s offered to pay for some of the improvements that would never be paid for without the approval … (but) I struggle with the R-3 density,” Johnson said.

Other councilors felt the demand for housing was more important than traffic congestion and councilor Sam Nunnally believed an increase in lot sizes would negatively impact affordability.

“Lot sizes (make) a huge impact,” Nunnally said.

The council received more than 150 emailed public comments about the project while residents have packed council chambers for multiple meetings since April, most who opposed the development.

“I just feel that there’s something in this that just doesn’t feel right in my gut,” said Colby Shaw, a resident who lives near the project site. “Something’s just not adding up with this subdivision and it’s just a little bit too soon. Let’s see what the Montana Department of Transportation comes up with and let’s wait until Whitefish Stage Road gets expanded. Let’s make it safer.”

Frank Garner, one of the developers of the project, said he hoped to add more single-family housing to the valley and assured the public the safety concerns would be addressed.

“I think everybody here knows that growth is coming,” Garner said. “These improvements we’ve talked about and the safety issues we’ve heard about are not going to get fixed until that development comes. How long should we wait?”