By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – The Gallatin County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously advanced the Flatiron development project at a Dec. 10 meeting, hoisting the large project over the first of many regulatory hurdles it’s likely to face.
The commission’s members heard presentations from the developer, Middle Fork Properties LLC, and contracted experts throughout the seven-hour meeting before approving the project’s Planned Unit Development, which includes 1,440 units in Gallatin County within 14 building envelopes.
“Now we will get to work on conditions and continue to improve the plan,” said Chris Leonard with Middle Fork Properties in a statement written to EBS after the meeting.
The commission also heard questions and oppositional comments from Flatiron’s neighboring residents and local organizations.
Dating back to August, when Middle Fork first presented the project to the Big Sky Zoning Advisory Committee, questions and concerns have been raised about the 535-acre project’s impacts on traffic, community water supply, neighboring developments and the surrounding environment, which includes several acres of wetlands and a section of the water-quality impaired Middle Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River. The advisory committee in October recommended the county deny the PUD application.
While some commissioners shared in the public’s concerns, several explained during board discussion that many of the issues raised would be addressed by subsequent processes the developers will have to undergo, including subdivision planning along with water and sewer service requests.
Gallatin County Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said that while the commission heard overwhelming public comment in opposition to the PUD’s approval, little to none of it addressed the zoning questions at hand.
“When we hear overwhelming public comment in opposition,” he said during board discussion, “I feel like the public comment and opposition has to be [based] on the criteria that I’m allowed to evaluate. Otherwise, it’s not valid opposition as far as weighing comment.”
Other justifications for approval provided by commissioners leaned on the more than 60 conditions provided by county staff. Many of these conditions address concerns raised by the public. One heavily discussed requires the entire PUD be serviced by the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District. If the developers are not able to secure adequate service, the PUD as approved would not be valid, according to the staff report.
Several experts hired by Middle Fork testified on behalf of work they’d done on the property, and spoke about wetlands, hydrology, geology, traffic, resort design and legal discussion.
Owners from Lone Moose Meadows, a community surrounded by the proposed Flatiron development, sent several homeowners and experts of their own to the podium to oppose the project.
Lone Moose homeowners declined to comment following the vote.
The commission also unanimously approved a variance request from Middle Fork to allow for changes to transportation design and construction standards on roadwork the developers plan to complete on the entrance to the development from Highway 64.
In the coming weeks, the development will seek zoning and density approval from Madison County for the remaining portion of the PUD. Middle Fork Properties estimates this will occur in January.