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Canyon development crosses first hurdle

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Zoning committee approves density increase

By Tyler Allen EBS Managing Editor

BIG SKY – The Big Sky Zoning Advisory Committee on Dec. 3 unanimously approved three requests regarding a parcel in Gallatin Canyon, which Big Sky’s Scott Altman has been trying to develop for approximately three years.

The property includes the Big Sky gravel pit and surrounding land west of Highway 191, and one request was a conditional-use permit amendment to convert nearly 7 acres from the 46.5 acres of Commercial-Industrial (CI) zoned property, which includes the gravel pit itself, to residential zoning. Another request was to adjust the classification of that remaining 40 acres to allow hotel construction because it’s currently zoned for motels only, a technicality that’s remnant of historical Montana state law.

It was the third request, one pertaining to density, which has raised eyebrows in the community. With the additional 7 acres from the CI parcel, the total parcel size that’s zoned residential would total 135.5 acres and the developer hopes to obtain a zone map amendment to reclassify the density from one single-family home per 5 acres to one per acre. That would result in 136 new residential units in that area of the canyon.

“We’re trying to make homes for the community to live in,” Altman said. “Our goal is to make housing up there, smaller homes that locals can live in.”

The property already has water infrastructure in place to support this size development, from wells in the Lazy J Utility Association to the south that went online in August 2017, according to Altman. But the real concern with every major development proposed in Big Sky is about where the sewage will go. The canyon is not part of the Big Sky Water and Sewer District and for homes and businesses in close proximity to the Gallatin River, a blue-ribbon trout fishery, wastewater is dealt with by private septic tanks and small treatment facilities.

The engineer on the project, Genesis Engineering, is working on developing a sewer system currently and has been going back and forth on potential designs with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, according to Altman.

“The sewer is a big deal down there,” said zoning committee member Steve Johnson, adding that the satellite sewer systems in the canyon are notorious for being in various states of disrepair. “They’re talking to DEQ and they think they have something that will work. We’re all holding our breath to find out what that is.”

Johnson said any project that could potentially address the affordable housing crisis in Big Sky will get the zoning committee’s attention, and the canyon is the most likely place for a big project like this to be built given land prices in Big Sky Town Center or Meadow Village.

“It’s their land and if they want to do something different with their land, there’s hardly any reason we can say no,” he said, adding that Gallatin County Health Department and Montana DEQ would have to sign off on anything regarding wastewater for a planned unit development.

The project application will be presented before the Gallatin County Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday, Dec. 13 at 9 a.m. in the Gallatin County Courthouse in Bozeman.

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