Flatiron development moves forward

Gallatin County Planning & Zoning Commission votes in favor of Flatiron permit despite reservations & public opposition

After about seven hours of presentations, deliberation, and public comment, the seven member Gallatin County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved Middle Fork Properties LLC Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application for the Flatiron development on Friday, Dec. 10. The Flatiron project, which would take about 15-20 years to build, is proposed between Big Sky Town Center and Big Sky Resort. More precisely, the development would sit near the bottom of Thunderwolf and Lone Moose 3 chair lifts on the south side of highway 64. Middle Fork Properties LLC, owned by Michael Schreiner and two unnamed partners, bought the property in 2019.

BACKGROUND

Flatiron’s plan is to build a community made of high-density hotels, residential properties, commercial units, and workforce housing with ski-in ski-out access and a recreational trail network along the Middle Fork of the Gallatin River. The developer, Middle Fork Properties LLC, bought the land intending to breathe new energy into the already resort-zoned property that straddles both Gallatin and Madison counties.

In 2020, Middle Fork Properties LLC hired whistler based EcoSign to design the resort. According to President Ryley Thiessen, EcoSign has almost 50 years of experience creating 500 resort area master plans in over 45 different countries around the world, including six Paralympic and Olympic venues.

Earlier in the process, the Flatiron team presented the development proposal to the Big Sky Zoning and Advisory Committee on Aug. 2. The Big Sky committee initially decided to push back a decision due to the scope of the project and amount of information.

Returning on Oct. 4th, the five-member Big Sky committee revisited the Flatiron proposal, listened to public comments, and then voted. According to notes from staff member Regan Fruh of the Big Sky Zoning Advisory Committee, nine people submitted public comments during the Oct. 4 meeting. All the people expressed opposition to Flatiron.

On Oct. 4, all five members of the Big Sky Zoning Advisory Committee—Steve Johnson, Becky Pape, Kyle Wisniewski, Philip Kedrowski, and Josh Treasure—recommended the Gallatin County Zoning & Planning Commission deny Flatiron a conditional use permit (CUP) due to “overwhelming” public opposition in a 5-0 vote.

Community members submitted over 100 pieces of public comment—according to Gallatin County staff—leading up to the Gallatin County Zoning & Planning Commission’s review for Flatiron on Dec. 10. After reading the letters and emails online at Gallatin County’s website, 34 letters (81%) voiced opposition while eight (19%) voiced support for Flatiron. Lone Moose Meadow property owners represented a substantial portion of the letters voicing disapproval. However, the 2400-member Big Sky Owners Assocation also asked Gallatin County to deny the permit. A few contractors, Karst shuttle services and Skyline bus, and Big Sky Community Housing Trust’s Laura Seyfang voiced approval for the Flatiron project.

MEETING

The seven-hour meeting at the Gallatin County Courthouse— streamed online and open to the public—initially started out with tech errors on Friday, Dec. 10. The Flatiron development team kicked off the meeting with presentations from a large assortment of specialists and contractors including geotechnical engineer Mike Hoffman, traffic and transport engineer Charlie Shaw, wetlands biologist Rich McEldowney, wildfire logistics with Bruce Suenram, wildlife and vegetation analysis with Dan Durham, and EcoSign resort master planning by Ryley Thiessen and Eric Callender. The Flatiron development is applying for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to establish a Planned Unit Development (PUD) on property zoned for resort development since 1996. “A Planned Unit Development is a process that provides the opportunity for variations from a regulation’s design standards so that a specific, wholistic vision for a project may be realized. The goal of a PUD is to create a community where the land uses are compatible, and natural features are preserved and enhanced over the life of the project,” according to the Gallatin County staff report.

To read more about the specific requirements for a CUP or PUD and the review process for the Gallatin County Zoning & Planning Commission, check out section 10 of the Gallatin County “Part 1” Zoning and Administrative Regulation and read section 22 in Gallatin Canyon/ Big Sky Zoning Regulation. Both are available for free online.

FEEDBACK FROM COMMUNITY

After the Flatiron team presented, a handful of people from the Big Sky community and Lone Moose Meadows spoke in opposition to the project virtually and in person. Kim Wilson, an attorney from Helena representing Lone Moose Meadows, argued the Big Sky community was in large part opposed to Flatiron as evidenced by Big Sky Zoning Advisory Committee’s unanimous recommendation to deny the project previously in October. Wilson also suggested Big Sky does not have enough water for the development. Flatiron estimated it will need 2,395 SFE, according to Hydro Solutions, but contended there are two untapped water sources on the 437-acre property. Opponents pointed out however that Middle Fork Properties LLC does not currently own the water rights.

Deb Kozisek, a nearby property owner and member of Lone Moose Meadows board of directors, expressed some of the strongest opposition to the Flatiron project in the public comment period. “They are the donut, and we are the donut hole. It’s not enough that they control the donut. They need to control the donut hole too,” said Kozisek.

RESULTS

After Flatiron had a chance to respond to public comment, the Gallatin County Zoning & Planning Commission asked questions and then discussed whether Flatiron met the criteria for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) as a Planned Unit Development (PUD).

Commissioner Scott McFarlane started off the discussion by acknowledging the complicated process and how overwhelming it seems with all the information. He pointed out however that the only choice an applicant like Flatiron has in this situation is to produce a plan and pitch it to the Gallatin County Zoning & Planning Commission. McFarlane also pointed out that unanimous opposition to Flatiron does not equate to adverse effects on the nearby community and acknowledged public sentiment appeared to be, “No more resorts, no more expansion... I like it the way it is [in Big Sky],” explained McFarlane.

Vice chair of the Gallatin Zoning & Planning Commission, Joe Skinner, explained a lot of the arguments did not feel pertinent to this part of the process, particularly the zoning decision. Skinner ultimately felt satisfied with the application put together by the Flatiron team. He also pointed out the process still had a long way to go before anything was finalized. For example, “Water availability has to be there to move forward... development won’t happen if it’s not,” explained Skinner.

Following discussions from other Gallatin County Zoning & Planning Commission members, commissioner Scott McFarlane submitted a motion to approve Middle Fork Properties LLC Conditional Use Request for Flatiron. All seven members, despite some reservations, voted in favor. 

More Information

Lone Peak Lookout

Cori Koenig, editor: editor@lonepeaklookout.com
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