Northshore Woods on hold after heated BLUAC meeting
The proposed site of the Northshore Woods housing development in Bigfork Wednesday, June 28. (Jeremy Weber/Bigfork Eagle)
For the Eagle | June 30, 2023 1:25 PM
More than 150 concerned citizens were left with more questions than answers Thursday afternoon as the proposed Northshore Woods housing development in Bigfork was pulled from consideration at the monthly meeting of the Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee (BLUAC) at the request of the developer.
The large crowd that had packed into the basement of Bethany Lutheran Church to comment on the proposed 105-acre development was left in an uproar when Project Manager Michael Brodie of the WGM Group requested a continuance, stating the developers had not received the county’s staff reports on the project until two hours prior to the 4 p.m. meeting.
According to Brodie, his staff, along with the applicant Longbow Land Partners, LLC would need time to review the reports before any public hearing could be held.
The announcement prompted several angry outbursts from those in attendance, including calling the move a “tactic” with Jim Abney — who owns property bordering the proposed development — threatening to return to the next meeting with even more people in opposition to the project.
Located at 8095 MT Highway 35 (the area behind Dairy Queen to the south and El Topo Cantina to the north), the currently vacant area is proposed to be developed by Longbow Land Partners, LLC of Jackson, Wyoming.
According to a planned unit development overlay application filed with Flathead County Planning and Zoning March 30, the company intends to build 125 single-family units on the property and is asking the county to cut the required lot size in half to do so.
While the crowd was angry and disappointed by the postponement of the hearing, county planner Zachary Moon says the applicant is well within their rights to ask for a continuance.
“An applicant, at any point, is allowed to pull a file. That is their right. At this point, I know everyone is worried about different hearings. There has to be a hearing with BLUAC before anything could possibly proceed,” Moon explained. “Once the applicant does decide to proceed with the file, there will be a subsequent BLUAC hearing and planning board hearing scheduled and a meeting with the commissioners.”
BLUAC Member Angela DeFries asked why the developers had not received the staff report until 2 p.m. that day.
“Most staff reports are not finished until the Wednesday before the meeting, but this report was finished on Monday and sent out on Tuesday. That is our usual timeline,” Moon responded. “I imagine it was some kind of mailing thing that might have taken an extra day.”
In a conversation with the Bigfork Eagle Friday, Moon stated there had been no delay and that the information had been released on the same schedule that it has been in the past.
According to Moon, the staff reports were sent to the BLUAC members on Tuesday and posted online and sent to the applicant on Wednesday.
“Official office policy is to send out that information packet, meaning posting to our website and sending to the Flathead County Planning Board and applicants two weeks before the planning board hearing,” Moon said. “With BLUAC, our policy is to send out staff reports two days before the date of the hearing, which we did.”
Increasingly hostile questions and accusations continued to be aimed at the committee, planning staff and Brodie, despite Moon and BLUAC chairman Susan Johnson explaining that any further discussion of the project by the group would be considered illegal.
“I understand that it is unfortunate that this has happened, but we do not control that,” Johnson said. “They do have the option to pull those applications and have us discuss them at a later date.”
It took nearly five minutes before order could be restored, with several people following Brodie into the parking lot with more accusations.
Bigfork resident Richard Coe requested that any future meeting be held at a later time of day to allow more people to attend.
While Johnson and Moon stated that was not an option due to the committee’s bylaws, Moon said Friday that he double checked and that is not the case.
“I dug a little deeper into that issue and found that it has just been standard operating procedure to have that meeting at 4 p.m. It is not absolutely set to have to always be at that time, it just always has been,” Moon explained. “BLUAC does have the power to alter that time, if they so choose. They can even change the location, they just have to post the information 48 hours before any meeting happens.”
The applicant has one year from the date of the request to be put on hold, which was received by Planning and Zoning Friday, to resume the consideration of their project, according to Moon. Property owners living in the vicinity of the project will be noticed beore any hearings take place, according to the Planning Department.
In the meantime, written comments can be submitted to the county planning and zoning department at email@example.com or mailed to 40 11th Street West - Suite 220, Kalispell, MT 59901.