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County planning, zoning commission to decide on large Big Sky development Dec. 10

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A conceptual illustration shows an early plan for the Flatiron development. IMAGE COURTESY OF MIDDLE FORK PROPERTIES LLC

Flatiron project seeks approval after Big Sky committee recommends denial

By Bella Butler EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – The Gallatin County Planning and Zoning Commission will decide tomorrow whether to advance the large-scale proposed Flatiron development in Big Sky.

At a potential inflection point in an uphill battle against public scrutiny, the project faces its last chance to gain approval for its Planned Unit Development, the first step in a lengthy process for approving the development.

The 2,635-unit PUD at the northeast base of Andesite Mountain garnered broad public attention after its developers, Middle Fork Properties LLC, presented the project to the Big Sky Zoning Advisory Committee in August.

The committee, which advises the Gallatin County Planning and Zoning Commission on Big Sky and Gallatin Canyon zoning matters, first delayed its vote on the project at its August meeting because committee members said they lacked information needed to make a recommendation.

The committee in October unanimously voted to recommend that Gallatin County deny the PUD, leaning heavily on public disapproval expressed during the comment period.

The Flatiron PUD was originally slated for consideration by Gallatin County in mid-October, but the developers requested the decision be delayed when a few commissioners were absent from the meeting.

“We believe that it was in our best interest to have the Flatiron project, based on its scope and magnitude, reviewed by the entire planning commission,” said Chris Leonard with Middle Fork Properties in a Dec. 8 interview with EBS.

Middle Fork Properties consists of area local Michael Schreiner, who first moved to Big Sky in the late 1980s, and two other partners, friends of Schreiner’s who he did not name. Middle Fork Properties purchased the land for Flatiron in 2019.

The entire scope of the project spans 535 acres and includes 1,440 units within 14 building envelopes in Gallatin County and 1,195 units within 10 building envelopes in Madison County, encompassing retail space, hotels, residential space and workforce housing. According to the developers, at least 75 percent of the PUD is open space.

Only 350 acres of the land is in Gallatin County, which has more extensive zoning approval processes than Madison County, Leonard said, adding that Middle Fork Properties applied the more stringent Gallatin County standards across the entire development.

“If a community isn’t growing,” Leonard said, “it’s dying … And what people should be looking for are developers that are thoughtful and putting together a very thoughtful plan that is backed by science.”

Flatiron included several amenities in its PUD proposal that the developers hope will distinguish it as a community rather than a resort, according to Leonard. Among these amenities are a public trails network and 900 workforce housing beds.

“We want to give employee housing,” Leonard said. “We want to make the river better. We want to provide public access. And we also want to contribute positively to the drinking water in Big Sky.”

Questions and concerns raised by the public include the project’s impacts on traffic, wildlife, nearby neighborhoods and the surrounding environment.

The Gallatin County Planning and Zoning staff prepared 63 suggested conditions of approval “that will be required to be complied with to be in conformance of the Flatiron PUD for further development of the property,” according to a staff report published Dec. 1.

These conditions cover a range of topics and many are designed to ensure plans proposed by the developers, such as implementing access to public trails and including workforce housing, will be actuated.

Flatiron’s neighbors, the Lone Moose Meadows Unit Owners Association, which was originally built as the first phase in the land’s previous development plan and is surrounded by Flatiron, have been among the most vocal throughout the PUD approval process.  

“I have not heard any support for this plan from any member [of Lone Moose] that they think this plan should go forward as is,” said Deb Kozisek, a board member of the owners association.

Lone Moose owners have been engaged with Flatiron’s developers for more than a year now, but Kozisek says Middle Fork LLC has not made adequate changes to their plan based on the feedback provided by Lone Moose owners.

Leonard said he believes those taking issue with the plan are not reacting to the merits of the Flatiron plan itself, but rather to development in Big Sky in general.

“We’ve been focused on doing the right thing, and we hope through the process that the public will realize that,” the developers wrote in a Dec. 9 statement to EBS.

The commission will discuss and vote on the Flatiron PUD at 9 a.m. tomorrow in the Gallatin County Courthouse community room. Zoning for the Madison County portion of the PUD is expected to be voted on in January.

Watch the meeting online or via Zoom here.

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