Glampground Property

The West Gallatin River flows between the future site of the Riverbend Glamping Getaway and multiple homes  in Gallatin Gateway.

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The Gallatin County Planning Department has declined a request from environmental groups and a fishing products company to complete a more extensive review of a contentious development in Gallatin Gateway.

Planning Director Sean O’Callaghan said in a letter dated Friday that the Riverbend Glamping Resort, a proposed vacation spot on the Gallatin River, did not need to be reviewed as a subdivision because the project did not meet the legal definition of a subdivision.

Upper Missouri River Waterkeeper, Montana Trout Unlimited, Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana, Simms Fishing Products, Protect the Gallatin River, Madison-Gallatin Trout Unlimited, American Rivers and Greater Yellowstone Coalition had asked O’Callaghan and the Gallatin County Planning Board in early January to determine whether the Riverbend Glamping Resort needed to be considered as a subdivision.

Classification as a subdivision would have required the project to meet stringent state and local regulations and would have required an environmental assessment and an opportunity for public comment.

The Riverbend Glamping Resort, located on the island west of the Mill Street bridge in Gallatin Gateway, will include campsites with Airstream trailers, Conestoga wagons and tiny homes for rent. Guests will have access to water from a well on the site, electricity from lines along Gateway South Road and wastewater and natural gas services from pipelines installed under the Gallatin River.

The groups said in their petition that the glampground qualified as a subdivision because the developer intended to rent camping vehicles on the property and the project would “include infrastructure identical to that traditionally required for a Montana small subdivision.”

In his letter, O’Callaghan rejected this argument.

He said the project was more similar to a motel than a subdivision because people will be paying to stay in provided lodging facilities. He also said that motels that offer rental cabins can include infrastructure like access roads and utilities, but that doesn’t make them subdivisions.

“The fact that lodging options planned for the Project may include recreational camping vehicles does not automatically make it a ‘Subdivision,’ neither does the installation of various infrastructure and utilities,” O’Callaghan wrote. “Given that the Project is not a ‘Subdivision,’ the requirements of the Montana Subdivision and Platting Act and the Gallatin County Subdivision Regulations are not applicable.”

Although the planning department won’t review the resort as a subdivision, it has decided the project will require a floodplain permit because much of the site is in the 100-year floodplain.

Wade Fellin, with Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, said the nonprofit was disappointed in O’Callaghan’s response to the petition but is focused on the floodplain permit.

“Though we disagree with the interpretation of a narrow legal point, we’re looking forward to the broader review of the floodplain permit, which is a higher bar to meet,” he said.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper doesn’t plan to take additional action related to the project until the planning department decides whether or not to issue the floodplain permit, which the nonprofit opposes, Fellin said.

Jeff Pfeil, the developer of Riverbend Glamping Resort, said he would reach out to the groups behind the petition to share more details about the project, to better understand their concerns and to work to address those concerns.

“The petition obviously was a surprise for me, but, after reviewing it, I do understand the groups’ concerns and share the concern to protect the river,” Pfeil said. “I do value the river as highly as they do.”

The planning department is now reviewing the floodplain permit application. There is no date by which the department will make a decision on the permit.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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