Bigfork apartment project gets green light

Daily Inter Lake | December 5, 2020 1:00 AM

The Flathead County Board of Adjustment on Tuesday gave developers a green light to build 20 apartment units in Bigfork.

The board granted Rodney and Tia McFarlane conditional-use permits to build five multifamily homes along Jewel Basin Court, a private cul-de-sac off Montana 83. Each building will have four units and total nearly 2,200 square feet.

The buildings will be spread across two currently undeveloped parcels totaling about 1.45 acres. Plans also call for a total of 47 off-street parking spaces. Just over half of each parcel will be open space, according to county planning staff.

Two conditional-use permits were needed because the properties are zoned for "community business," meaning residential buildings are allowed only with the board's approval. Jewel Basin Court has a beauty salon at one end and a financial adviser firm at the other; a row of other businesses sits between Jewel Basin Court and Montana 35.

No public agencies raised objections to the project, and planning staff reported the apartments would have a negligible impact on highway traffic. But board member Gina Klempel questioned the county's traffic assessment, saying it's already difficult for motorists to turn onto the highway in that area.

"I don't agree with the impact of traffic in that area, and we're adding more, so I guess we have to be very cautious on what we're adding in a certain area because it's hard to get in and out on that highway," Klempel said. "They do have a stoplight there now, thank God. But at the same time, you can wait quite a while."

Mark Mussman, the county's planning and zoning director, told the board the proposed apartments are projected to generate less traffic than some other uses allowed under the community business zoning designation.

Klempel joined the other four board members to unanimously approve three of the apartment buildings, then cast a lone vote against the other two buildings.

ALSO ON Tuesday, the Board of Adjustment spent nearly an hour deliberating over a homeowner's request for an "after-the-fact" variance on his property along Bjork Drive in Bigfork.

Marion Herring told the board he built a corner of his attached garage 2 feet over his property's setback line. He said he believed that was permitted based on erroneous advice from his neighborhood's homeowners association and didn't realize it would need approval from the Board of Adjustment.

Herring cited several reasons for building the garage the way he did, including the shape of the lot and a layer rocky that needed to be broken away. Three board members voted to approve the variance, while members Tobias Liechti and Roger Noble voted against it, saying they didn't want to set a precedent for retroactive approval of building mistakes.

Reporter Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4434 or