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River Highlands developer back, now wants more than 300 units

| December 21, 2022 7:35 AM

The River Highlands subdivision is back for a second-go around before the Columbia Falls City-County planning board in January.

The original subdivision, planned for just under 50 acres of land east of the Flathead River was unanimously rejected by the board. That project featured 455 rental units — either apartments or townhomes — on 49.1 acres just east of the Highway 2 Flathead River Bridge.

The project brought a host of objections by the public and the planning board found that the original plan was flawed in that it did not fit the character of the neighborhood and it also was completely rental units.

After the planning board rejected it, the developers withdrew their application before it could go to city council for review.

The new proposal is seeking approval for 83 single family homes, 98 townhomes, and 162 apartments — all told 343 units. Complete build out would take about four years.

If approved, it would be served by an extension of city sewer and water. The development, like the one before it, would also move River Road to the east and put a traffic light at the intersection with Highway 2, assuming that gets approval by Montana Department of Transportation.

According to the developer’s application, the project, if approved, would be built in phases, with phase I, which is the center of the development, done first. Phase I includes 126 apartments, in seven buildings as well as 29 single family units and the clubhouse.

“The variety of housing types will provide options to the community complementing different sectors and income levels, lifestyles, age groups, and needs. Additionally, it will give residents an opportunity to remain in the same neighborhood and grow into a different unit type or downsize to a smaller unit,” the application narrative of the development states.

The development is designed by the WGM Group of Kalispell.

The proposal has been approved in the past. In 2008, the board approved a subdivision on the same lot, but with far less density of 151 residential units, or about 3.1 homes per acre.

This proposal, like the one before it, includes at least a 100-foot buffer (and 200 feet in some areas) along the Flathead River and a 5 acre parcel that will be donated for a city park.

Like the previous project, this one is also sure to draw public scrutiny, as most of the surrounding zoning is low density rural farmland and/or single family homes.

The Benches subdivision is being built just to the east of this property. But it is all single-family homes — 48 of them — over just over 32 acres.

The developers claim River Highlands will have no impact on wildlife because it leaves a buffer in place along the river.

The planning board will take up the application, along with a public hearing on the proposal at its Jan. 10 meeting at the Columbia Falls Junior High starting at 6:30 p.m.

Contacted last week, developer James Barnett, who is spearheading the project, declined to comment on the new proposal.

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