MISSOULA — Citing concerns over the loss of farmland, habitat and the impacts of hillside development, the Consolidated Planning Board this week unanimously denied a 14-lot subdivision proposed for the base of McCauley Butte in the Target Range neighborhood.
The decision marks the second time in as many months that the planning board has recommended a project’s denial, the last being a rezone request for a housing development at the base of Grant Creek.
The McCauley Meadows subdivision, proposed by Tai Tam LLC, faced a number of challenges as proposed, leading members of the planning board to side with county planners, who also recommended the project be denied.
“This feels like a good faith effort by the developers to come up with a plan to develop this property,” said board member Peter Bensen. “But if we’re going to deny this, I really think we need to go back to the developers and offer a path forward. I’d hate to see another proposal come to us in six months that we decline again. I think that would be terribly unfair.”
An earlier version of the project was denied around two years ago, and the developers attempted to mitigate a number of concerns expressed at the time. Among them, they reduced the number of lots down to 14 and increased the size of an easement dedicate to agriculture to 3.5 acres.
Under the Target Range Zoning District, the property could sustain 21 lots.
“We feel we’ve taken some substantial steps at reducing the impacts we’d make on the hillside and the agricultural property by substantially reducing the density down to 14 units,” said John Kellogg, a land use planner with Professional Consultants, which represents the developers. “We feel that what we’ve proposed here provides an appropriate balance between the agricultural land preservation and the protection of the hillside.”
As proposed, the project would partially sit on level ground prized for its agricultural soils at the base of McCauley Butte. A number of lots would also sit on the slope at the base of the butte, requiring road work and grading.
The subdivision would abut a 278-acre conservation easement placed on McCauley Butte.
“These soils out there a super deep – more than other parts of the county,” said board member Neva Hassanein. “But we didn’t value that when we protected the butte. Conservation friends of mine celebrated protecting the butte but with no regard really to those soils. It think it’s part of the mess we’re in on this site. It’s really challenging in this case to balance all that.”
County staff cited a number of concerns in recommending the project be denied, saying the impacts to the natural environment, including native vegetation and wildlife habitat, “will be significant and lasting” once development begins.
“I think in theory, all these impacts could be mitigated, but in doing so, I think you’re looking at a redesign of the project,” said county planner Tim Worley. “I think they responded to some of what was heard the last time around. But I think there’s still adverse impacts.”
Kellog said the development team has tried to mitigate concerns over the agricultural soils.
“We’ve spoken over the last three years with the CFAC folks,” he said. “We’ve been working hard to identify a usable agricultural preserve here that makes sense for someone to step in and lease that property and bring its full potential out.”