Saturday, April 01, 2023

Developer pulls River Highlands application, again

Editor | January 27, 2023 1:45 PM

The developers for a massive subdivision just east of the Flathead River have once again withdrawn their application.

Columbia Falls City Clerk Barb Staaland sent out a notice Friday afternoon that a special Columbia Falls City Council meeting scheduled for Monday at the junior high to consider the River Highlands subdivision was canceled. Staaland said developers had notified the city they had withdrawn their application.

This is the second time in five months developer James Barnett has submitted plans for a subdivision on just under 50 acres east and south of the Highway 2 bridge from Columbia Falls. It’s also the second time the application has been withdrawn after the Columbia Falls City-County planning board gave it a negative recommendation to city council.

The latest proposal called for building 83 single family homes, 98 townhomes and 162 apartments — 343 units total, which is currently a fallow farm field.

But Phase I focused primarily on apartments, 126 of them in seven buildings.

The planning board earlier this month rejected the proposal, saying the density of the project was simply too great and the city’s growth policy never envisioned a development of this scope.

Back in August, Barnett proposed a development of 455 rental units — most of them apartments, some of them townhomes.

That, too, was rejected by the planning board and Barnett withdrew the application before the council meeting.

In both cases, the developer would have extended city sewer and water services across the river to serve the homes.

Both developments have proven extremely unpopular with the public.

At the last public hearing, aside from the developer’s representative, no one spoke in favor of the project. In about two hours of testimony, person after person brought up concerns, including impacts to wildlife and the rural nature of the neighborhood, and strains on city services. Worries about traffic and safety also emerged as the primary concerns.

Many of the speakers said they weren’t against growth and realized the city would expand, but deemed the location the wrong spot for a high density development.

Just to the east of River Highlands is another subdivision called the Benches. That was approved by both the planning board and city council. But it is single-family homes on relatively large lots with far lower density.

The Benches is 48 homes on about 55 acres of land. It does not have city services, however. The homes have a community well and individual septic systems.

Barnett is a managing partner of American Residential Investment Management, according to the company’s website.

The company, according to its website, “targets apartment communities in high growth markets across the Carolinas, Florida and Montana. Our ability to identify opportunities before they are brought to market, create sophisticated transaction structuring and use our management experience to improve operations has enabled American Residential to achieve superior returns.”

The company has most of its holdings in the south, but also owns Silverbrook Apartments in Kalispell and another apartment complex in Bozeman.

Barnett proposed a similar project to River Highlands last year at the base of Big Mountain. That proposal included 318 residential units on 32.7 acres at the intersection of Big Mountain Road and East Lakeshore Drive.

The Whitefish City Council ultimately rejected the proposal.

Barnett just recently submitted plans to the City of Kalispell for another housing complex.

Timberwolf Ridge, would contain up to 400 multi-family dwelling units in six buildings. Constructed on six lots the project would include parking, recreational amenities including a clubhouse, and open space in the form of courtyards between the apartments. It is proposed to be constructed at 605 Stillwater Road at the intersection of Stillwater Road and Timberwolf Parkway, which is just south of Glacier High School.

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