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Commissioners reject zone change for KM Ranch Road property

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | May 31, 2023 1:00 AM

Saying they agreed with neighbors who spoke against the plan, Flathead County commissioners on Tuesday denied a zone change for 155 acres along KM Ranch Road, arguing it doesn’t fit with the neighborhood.

Montarise Developments was seeking to rezone the property located just north of the county landfill near U.S. 93, saying it intended to bring forward a future plan for the property that would include housing and rental cabins.

Commissioners unanimously rejected a request to rezone the property from SAG-5 suburban agricultural to R-2.5 rural residential. It’s a change that would have reduced the minimum lot size from 5 to 2.5 acres for the property.

“Where the property is located that would be high density in a rural area,” Commissioner Pam Holmquist said. “SAG-5 is the appropriate zoning.”

Commissioner Randy Brodehl said the county does approve zone changes for properties, but only when it makes sense to do so.

“It would be a big lift here for us to say it’s a reasonable thing to change the zoning here,” Brodehl said. “We do change zoning on properties, but we’ve really reviewed this and we’ve looked this over. And for me this does not fit in the community and it doesn’t fit in the neighborhood.”

Neighbors of the property have continued to voice concerns about the impact a development could have on the property. For nearly an hour Tuesday they told commissioners about the reasons the change shouldn’t be allowed: increased traffic, degrading water quality, the proximity to the landfill and potential risk of wildfire.

While saying he supports development, Chuck Curry said the property is already zoned appropriately in an effort to control density there.

“The zoning fits the neighborhood,” he said. “It fits everything except for one thing — the developer’s need to make money.”

Julie Romme, a member of Friends for Responsible Rural Growth, a group that opposed the project from the outset, said a high density subdivision doesn’t belong in the rural area.

“The existing property owner rights will be sacrificed if you approve this,” she told commissioners.

Montarise representatives have said the project is designed to create needed housing in the Flathead Valley. Though the request was only for a rezone, they have presented plans saying the intention was to apply for a planned unit development with the potential for 103 housing units on the property.

Paul Unger, with Carolina Homes, which is the company behind Montarise Developments, said the plan called for the Canada-based business to put down roots in the Flathead Valley while constructing much-needed homes.

“This was purchased with the purpose to create homes for many families who have contributed to this community for generations,” Unger said. “It’s much easier for an existing community to recognize the challenges of a new development than it is to appreciate the high value that housing presents in the long-term health of the community.”

The Montarise property is undeveloped and forested. Under current zoning, the property could be developed with about 30 lots.

This is the second time Montarise has applied for a zone change for the property. The first plan looked to change the zoning to a minimum lot size of 1 acre.