By Tyler Allen EBS Managing Editor

BIG SKY – At a Feb. 26 meeting of the Madison County Planning Board in Virginia City, Lone Mountain Land Company encountered a setback to its new overall development plan for Moonlight Basin.

The board voted six to two in favor of adopting the recommendation of Planning Director Charity Fechter, who suggested denying the additional 203 hotel units requested in Moonlight’s overall development plan (ODP). In 2007, the ODP called for 1,651 total residential units and was revised to 1,854 units for 2017. An ODP must be updated every 10 years.

“The only difference between what we had submitted and approved in ‘07 versus 2017, is we did ask for approximately 200 additional density units,” said Kevin Germain, LMLC’s vice president of planning and development.

“The reason we did that—if you read the definition of a unit in the Madison County subdivision regulations—a hotel unit is treated the same as a 10,000-square-foot custom home,” he said. “The difference between ‘07 and 2017 was a plan with more hotels in it than we had in ‘07, so an increase in density.”

Fechter said that wildlife and habitat connectivity was a concern in the updated ODP. “It is an extremely sensitive area, especially in the Moonlight Territory. … The bottom line is, I don’t believe the planning board believed the additional units were justified.”

Approximately 100 of the additional units would have been developed in the area called Moonlight Territory, west of Jack Creek Road and north of the golf course. The remaining 100 hotel units are proposed for other future subdivisions, like Lee’s Poole, Overlook and Madison Village.

Moonlight Territory has not yet been developed, though two 160-acre properties have been sold and neither of them is currently under conservation easements, according to Germain.

Bob Zimmer, the water programs coordinator for the conservation nonprofit Greater Yellowstone Coalition, attended the meeting and was pleased the board voted in favor of Fechter’s recommendation. He said that GYC will be represented at the March county commission meeting and will urge the commissioners to deny the additional hotel units.

“The commission could adopt the [LMLC] plan … we’ll again be there lobbying for them to adopt the recommendation the planning board put forward,” Zimmer said.

“About 400 units of their [approximately] 1,600 they can allocate as hotel, condos or single family,” Fechter said. “They can adjust the additional units they already have and bring them back for our approval—we can deal with the bulk of it.”

Germain said he presented Moonlight’s 1994 plans to the board because he’s heard people say, “Moonlight had a bigger conservation story than they do today.” He noted that the vision at that time was for many 5- to 20-acre parcels, including an area the original developers called “Wildlife Single Family,” which would have led to less density and open space than they’re seeking now.

“So it’s a much more concentrated, and I think more wildlife-friendly plan, based on better science than was available in ‘94 when they were looking at how to plan it,” he said.

Of the original 25,000-acre purchase by Lee Poole and his group of investors, 72 percent of it would have been left as open space and the other 18 percent would have been chopped up into 5- to 20-acre tracts, according to Germain, and the updated ODP leaves 86 percent of the initial land purchase in open space or conservation easements.

The planning board’s recommendation will be presented to the Madison County commissioners at their next meeting on March 13, which is tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m. in Virginia City. The planning board will advise authorization of the plan, but capped at the 1651 units approved in 2007.