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The Gallatin County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved both requests from the developer of a nearly 500-acre resort development Friday.

The commission’s decision gave Middle Fork Properties, the developers of the Flatiron development, the ability to establish building density in the planning process of its proposed development, and gave permission to alter the curbs and speed limits from county standards on proposed roads within the development.

The approval of the planned unit development and road construction variance mark the first step in a long process of Gallatin County and other agencies reviewing the proposed resort development.

“We’re giving them approval to move forward,” Joe Skinner, a Gallatin County commissioner and zoning board member, said. “There is going to be a lot of review that happens from now until a shovel gets put into the ground.”

The proposed development sits north of the Spanish Peaks Mountain Club and is at the base of the Thunderwolf and Lone Moose Chairlifts. Primary access to the Flatiron development would be from Lone Mountain Trail, also known as Highway 64.

The property is split between Gallatin and Madison counties — 350 acres lie in Gallatin County. Development plans indicated that there would be 1,440 units — divided up amongst hotel rooms, single-family housing, and employee housing — built on the property.

The property was previously zoned as Resort and Open Space districts. The proposed development would set aside roughly 75% of the property as open space, according to documents from the meeting.

The Flatiron development neighbors the Lone Moose Meadows condominium complex. Residents of the neighboring development spoke against the development at the meeting.

Kim Meadows, a Helena-based attorney representing the Lone Moose Meadows Homeowners Association, said the proposed development did not meet the criteria laid out by the Big Sky and Gallatin Canyon Growth policy, and did not properly address concerns with water discharge and usage.

“The theme that you will hear a lot of today is ‘don’t let the development of Big Sky outpace the infrastructure,’” Wilson said.

Beth Mannebach, a resident at Lone Moose Meadows and a board member of the homeowners association, said she was concerned about the effects the development would have on the Middle Fork of the Third Fork of the Gallatin River — 11,000 feet of the waterway run through the property.

Plans for the development indicated that building could take place within 50 feet of the river banks of the Middle Fork.

Staff findings indicated that development would impact the waterway. Wetlands on the development would be impacted too.

Rich McEldowney, the vice president of Confluence Consulting, the firm hired by the developer to investigate wetlands on the property, said clustered developments like Flatiron come with consequences.

“As a wetland scientist, I think all wetlands should be avoided, but that’s not possible when there’s a lot of competing goals within a project,” McEldowney said.

The county planning and zoning commission’s approval came with a slew of planning staff recommending conditions for the developers to follow through the planning process.

Included in the 61 conditions was the addition that impacts to the wetlands would be addressed by using the Twin Bridges Mitigation — a developer pays for what wetlands are lost in the course of development — and that an acreage lost would be rebuilt somewhere else in the development.

All of the public comment at the meeting was against the development, and the majority of comment received before the meeting was against the project, too. But much of that comment did not pertain to the requests being made by the developer, county commissioner and zoning commission board member Scott MacFarlane said.

“When we hear overwhelming public comment in opposition, I feel like the public comment in opposition has to be on the criteria that I am about to evaluate,” MacFarlane said.

Zach Brown, a county commissioner and planning and zoning board member, said that the planned unit development process does leave some unanswered minutiae, but that those details will be hashed out in future reviews.

The next stop for the Flatiron development is a subdivision review, but no date has been set for when that would occur.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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