Planning board delays decision on controversial subdivision proposal

| September 10, 2020 12:20 AM

The Flathead County Planning Board unanimously voted to delay its decision on the Rolling Acres subdivision preliminary plat until next month’s meeting, after closing the public hearing just before midnight Wednesday.

The vote came after board members cited the need for more time to review the findings of fact and to digest a volume of information delivered by the both the applicant, the Fairview Neighborhood Association in opposition to the project, and the public.

Rolling Acres is a proposed 77-lot subdivision on 114 acres off Columbia Falls Stage Road.

If built as designed, it would be served by 40 individual wells and 77 septic systems, according to plans submitted to the county.

Over 300 pages of public comment have been generated concerning the development, nearly all in opposition, primarily regarding density, wildlife, wildlife habitat, farmland, traffic, roads, water and wastewater systems, water quality, flooding, wetlands, noise and air pollution as well as crime, to name a few.

The subdivision is bookended by a 700 acre conservation easement and nature preserve to the north and a 200 acre conservation easement to the south and is a rural area of the county, though it is unzoned.

Developer representatives Doug Peppmeier of TD&H Engineering and Brad Bennett of Water & Environmental Technologies addressed a number of the concerns, including surface flooding and high groundwater levels, road capacity as well as other concerns, in their pitch to the planning board in favor of the subdivision.

The planning staff had also received seven agency comments including from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, Creston Rural Fire District and the Flathead Conservation District. They had a host of concerns that included habitat loss, traffic safety, as well as stormwater and septic pollution.

There are several natural springs and wetlands adjacent to the property and the Flathead River is nearby as well. The private lands to the north, owned by the Johnston family, are rife with wild game, including a herd of about 100 elk.

Over 20 citizens offered public comment Wednesday night, most of which echoed agency concerns. At the forefront was the Fairview Neighborhood Association, represented by legal counsel Roger Sullivan, hydrogeologist Willis Weight, and land use consultant Kate McMahun.

The planning board plans to make a recommendation one way or another to the county commissioners on the preliminary plat at its October meeting.

The commissioners have the final say in the matter.