By Sarah Gianelli
EBS Senior Editor

During an Aug. 27 meeting of the Madison County Planning Board in Virginia City, Lone Mountain Land Company’s 10-year overall development plan for Moonlight Basin passed, with conditions. An advisory entity only, the planning board will make its recommendation for ODP approval to the Madison County Commissioners on Sept. 11.

The 2017 plan, a revised version of an approved decade-old plan, details the addition of 1,651 residential units in the Moonlight Basin area north of Big Sky Resort, 270,000 square feet of commercial space, an 80-room five-star hotel, dorm-style employee housing, and two new chairlifts for residential access.

But the most contentious part of the proposal—and the closest vote—had to do with altering the development plan for the Moonlight Territory Reserve, acreage west of Jack Creek Road and north of the golf course that, in the 2007 plan, was set aside as 19, 160-acre ranch parcels to offset increased development in other areas of club property.

Lone Mountain Land Company’s revised plan proposed repurposing three of those ranch lots for the development of 84 housing units.

The development company voluntarily tabled the plan in June after conservation groups including the Jack Creek Preserve Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Greater Yellowstone Coalition voiced concerns about environmental impacts.

During the ensuing months some compromises were reached, including securing conservation easements instead of deed restrictions, having a recreation plan in place, and instituting a covenants enforcement officer to educate and monitor property owners living in the wildland-urban interface.

Limiting the Moonlight Territory development to the currently approved 19 exempt ranch lots failed by a vote of five in favor; six, opposed. A vote approving the 16 ranch lots and 84 units in the Moonlight Territory passed by a vote of nine to two. The second vote paved the way for Lone Mountain Land Company to develop a total of 84 residential units on three of the 160-acre ranch lots.

Madison County Planning Director Charity Fechter explained that the conservation easements are required to be placed on the “ranch” lots within five years of ODP approval; that they would be in perpetuity, prohibit further subdivision, include designated building/disturbance areas, and prohibit multi-unit rental developments.

Bob Zimmer, the water programs coordinator for the conservation nonprofit Greater Yellowstone Coalition, has been part of the conversation between environmental groups, Moonlight Basin and Lone Mountain Land Company.

“We stand behind the planning board’s decision but would have liked to see more analysis of wildlife impact prior to those development pods being approved,” Zimmer said.

Moonlight Territory has not yet been developed, though two 160-acre properties have been sold.

Bordering Jack Creek Preserve and the Custer Gallatin National Forest, the Moonlight Territory is a high-use wildlife corridor, Zimmer said, adding that Greater Yellowstone Coalition would like to see that land protected as much as possible.

“I don’t think we can say right now that it’s a loss,” Zimmer said, pointing out that plan still needs to be approved by the Madison County commissioners. “Any development, particularly in forested areas like that is going to have some impact. The question for us is can the developer put residential development in there without significant impact to wildlife—and that’s just a big unknown.”

Planning Director Fechter said to remember that the ODP is a 10-year plan and the Moonlight Territory will likely be among the last land developed; and the numbers approved are the limit, not necessarily the exact number of units that will be put in place.

“It was a tremendous, collaborative effort with a lot of people involved, and at the end of the day we ended up with a much better plan than when we started,” said Kevin Germain, Lone Mountain Land Company’s vice president of planning and development. “I am extremely appreciative of all the third parties willing to commit their time to work with us.”

The planning board will present their recommendations to the Madison County Board of Commissioners at 10 a.m. on Sept. 11 in Virginia City.