Controversial item removed from agenda

By Joseph T. O’Connor EBS Editor

BIG SKY – Two items on the agenda for the Gallatin Canyon/Big Sky Zoning Advisory Committee (BSAC) meeting Aug. 1 prompted discussion that lasted well over two hours. One of the agenda items took all of five minutes.

This item—a request for a text amendment to Gallatin Canyon zoning regulations—was removed from the agenda the afternoon of July 29, the Friday before the Monday morning meeting. BSAC members held five minutes of public comment before moving on.

According to the BSAC meeting agenda, the zoning amendment item that was removed would “create a new category of high density, temporary housing for transient employees.”

A Gallatin County Zoning Regulation Test and Map Amendment application identified Big Sky real estate developer Scott Altman and Colorado-based workforce housing company Civeo Corp. as applicants for the amendment. Altman said he received a number of calls regarding the application, and wanted to line up more details before bringing the request to BSAC.

“The feedback I got was so much turmoil and I thought ‘Let’s have comprehensive answers for everybody,’” Altman said. “We wanted to be more prepared for the conversation that’s going to occur.”

Big Sky is seeing record development, and workforce housing has been a point of contention recently. In a 2014 housing study, the consulting firm Economics and Planning Systems identified that in 2011, approximately 84 percent of workers commuted to Big Sky from outside the immediate area.

“I don’t know that anyone should begrudge [Altman] for starting the discussion,” said Gallatin County Planner Tim Skop, who was present at the meeting. “This type of housing development may be something that Big Sky isn’t ready for, but … this is something that needs to be addressed.”

In the meantime, development in Big Sky area is expanding, which will require more workers in Big Sky. Spanish Peaks Mountain Club continues to push forward with a 475,400-square-foot lodge on its property, which includes an approximate 9-acre lot, 51 condos, and 100 hotel rooms, according to Skop.

At the Yellowstone Club, construction on a new base area is underway, according to the club’s Vice President of Development Mike DuCuennois.

“Yellowstone Club broke ground this spring on a three-year build for our new base village, including 48 residential units along with several new club amenities,” DuCuennois said in an email. “Ongoing construction continues at several other locations on the YC property and will hopefully remain steady for the next six years.”

Without viable fixes, housing shortages will persist even after construction is complete, Skop said.

“We need to find some solution because not only are you going to have issues finding builders to build the buildings, but where are you going to put workers once they’re built?”

Civeo Corp. operates more than 21,000 rooms in 17 lodges and villages—commonly called man camps—in oil-rich areas in Canada, Australia and the U.S., including West Texas and the Bakken area of North Dakota.

“A man camp is sort of a common terminology used throughout the industry related to short-term housing facilities,” said Lauren Waterton, a senior planner and design studio manager with Bozeman-based Sanderson Stewart. “There are several different types of employee housing … and this is just one more type.”

Sanderson Stewart is listed as “agent” on the zoning amendment application and is operating as a consultant for the applicants. In addition to its Bozeman location, the community development firm also has offices in Billings, as well as Denver, Colorado, and Williston, North Dakota.

Altman said he hopes to bring the text amendment to the BSAC board during the next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 29 at the Big Sky Water and Sewer District.

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The second agenda item at the BSAC meeting addressed a Conditional Use Permit requested by John Delzer, owner of Delzer Diversified Inc., to install a 4,000-square-foot shop for his snowplow service across from the Ousel Falls trailhead parking lot.

Delzer’s snow and ice management company SnowBiz has cleared snow for Big Sky clients since 1986. Delzer said his lease on the building north of the Whitewater Inn in Gallatin Canyon will be terminating at the end of April 2017.

“Economically it was not possible [to renew] with the owner,” Delzer said.

The location in question per the C.U.P., 2085 Ousel Falls Road, is located on the west side of the road near a sharp corner, and a number of Big Sky residents spoke in opposition to the request during the public comment period, pointing to the danger of that curve in the road, among other issues.

BSAC board members Steve Johnson, Becky Pape and Philip Kedrowski (Bill Simkins and Kenny Holtz were not present at the meeting) brought up a number of issues with the request, including the fact that the Big Sky Community Organization, which operates Ousel Falls Trail, was not notified of Delzer’s request for a C.U.P.

Other contentions the board made included the other three criteria for a C.U.P. laid out in the 1996 Gallatin Canyon/Big Sky Zoning Plan:

-The use must be consistent with the objectives with the Gallatin Canyon/Big Sky zoning plan and the intent of the regulation

-The use will not adversely affect nearby properties or their occupants

-The use meets density, coverage, yard, height and all other regulations in the district where it will be located

“The key objectives of the plan relate to orderly development, meaning residential goes in one place and commercial goes in another,” said BSAC board member Steve Johnson, referring to the fact that Delzer wants to build a commercial shop in residential zoning.

“We measure [the second criterion] by the community’s voice and I didn’t hear anything in favor,” Johnson added. “And you can’t build on slopes greater than 25 percent around here and we didn’t get a number for that.”

Delzer contends that the area he plans to build on has a slope that does not exceed 25 percent, and added that since his SnowBiz plows approximately 80 miles of roadway in Big Sky, his company is essential to snow removal in the area.

“We’re a safety service company and that [designation] was given to us by the county,” Delzer said. “Since we’re unincorporated, I basically serve as the municipal snow removal service.”

The request did not get a recommendation for approval by the BSAC board, which voted 2-1 against supporting Delzer’s petition to the Gallatin County/Big Sky Planning and Zoning Commission.

Delzer can ask the planning and zoning commission for a continuance on the request while he addresses the issues, according to Skop.

“He always has the right to ask for a continuance right up until the board takes it back for a vote,” Skop said. “It’s not uncommon for them to vote in favor of something the advisory board does not recommend.”

Delzer says he met all the conditions required by the county regulations, and that the Ousel Falls location would allow his company to clear snow from roads better.

“I’ve played the game fair and that’s all I can do,” he said. “If a town is being built, do they put their safety services on the edge of town or do they put them in the middle where it allows them to serve the community best?”

The commission plans to address the C.U.P. request at a public hearing on Aug. 11 at the Gallatin County Courthouse in Bozeman.

BSAC serves in an advisory role to the Gallatin Canyon/Big Sky Planning and Zoning Commission, and all meetings are open to the public. EBS will continue its coverage of these topics as information becomes available.