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Settlement over Bigfork subdivision would allow developer to resubmit plan

by HEIDI DESCH
Hagadone News Network | May 15, 2024 12:00 AM

A lawsuit filed by the developer behind a proposed Bigfork subdivision against Flathead County following denial of the project appears to be headed for a settlement.

County commissioners in October turned down the first phase of the Northshore Woods development proposed to include 51 single-family homes. The larger project called for 125 homes on 105 acres between Montana 35 and Bigfork Stage Road. 

Following the denial, the developer behind the project, Longbow Land Partners, filed a lawsuit in Flathead County District Court alleging the decision was illegal. 

Commissioners on Monday unanimously approved a settlement agreement already signed by Longbow Land Partners of Jackson, Wyoming. The agreement would permanently dismiss the lawsuit and allow the developer to file its request for the 51-lot subdivision with the county. 

Originally three separate applications were filed regarding the subdivision: a preliminary plat, a request to change the zoning and a request for a planned unit development. It was the preliminary plat that was denied. 

The developer alleged in the suit that the county commissioners were confused by complicated planning staff reports, which led to the illegal denial of the proposed subdivision that complies with existing zoning and that the plat should have been considered separately from the other two items. 

The 51-lot subdivision was the only item being considered at the October commissioner meeting with the other requests scheduled for later hearings. 

“We have a packet that is mostly about a 125-lot proposal and we have to figure out what that means for a 51-lot subdivision,” Commissioner Randy Brodehl said at the meeting. “It has been very difficult for me to put this into a packet that makes sense to read from one end to the other. I think it would have been better to have pulled this off the Planning Board’s agenda and had them start from scratch with a packet for just a 51-lot subdivision, period.”

The developer in its suit claimed that the subdivision application “clearly” demonstrates that the subdivision meets the requirements of the Montana Subdivision and Platting Act and zoning, irrespective of whether the separate requests were to be approved. 

The county in its response admitted that the 51-lot subdivision meets the zoning, but denies that the subdivision “clearly” meets the requirements of the state act saying that the county commissioners would weigh whether the subdivision meets the criteria based upon the application, submitted information and public comments. 

The settlement agreement allows for the developer to resubmit the 51-lot subdivision to the county as a stand-alone subdivision. It also notes that the area outside of the 51-lot section — about 63 acres — shall not be developed or subdivided without further review. 

It says that assuming the 51-lot subdivision meets current zoning requirements, the planning staff will revise its report on the preliminary plat. And that county commissioners will hold a public hearing and vote on the request on the resubmitted request. 

The subdivision drew a multitude of concerns during the public hearing process including that it would alter Bigfork, increase traffic and affect infrastructure. 

The developers argued that the project would provide needed housing in the Flathead Valley.