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Bigfork hotel permit tabled by Board of Adjustment

by AVERY HOWE
Hagadone News Network | May 18, 2024 12:00 AM

The Flathead County Board of Adjustment unanimously voted to table Bigfork Hotel Group’s request for a conditional use permit to allow for a 64-room hotel in the Fort development north of Bigfork during its May 7 meeting.

The proposed Miroctel Inn and Suites by Wyndham would be three stories tall, sitting in a B-3 Community Business zone. It is surrounded by other B-3 zoning, save for some I-1 industrial zoning to the north and east. The Fort development, designed as a commercial subdivision, remains largely undeveloped. 

Previously, the Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee voted to recommend denial of the proposal. Reasons for denial, revisited in the Board of Adjustment meeting on Tuesday, included concerns about increased traffic, and water and sewer capacity. 

Concerns about the building’s design were also raised during public comment.

“It looks like a giant storage unit for humans,” Bigfork resident Deedee Wender said.

Andy Evensen of Evensen Engineering and Consulting Inc., speaking on behalf of the Bigfork Hotel Group, acknowledged the concerns. He noted that traffic studies would have to be done as part of future Montana Department of Transportation permitting, and that Bigfork Water and Sewer District was currently working to determine if the hotel would exceed its capacity for service. 

As far as looks go, “The project went through the development’s HOA architectural review committee and received unanimous approval of the features of the building. It really fits in with how the developers intended the development to look and it will fit in well with how the other facilities in the subdivision will look that will be directly impacted by the project,” Evensen said. 

In a staff report, Bigfork Water and Sewer District noted that the lot in question has a 1-inch water service, and a 1.25-inch pressure sewer service. Concern was that increased supply may be needed, and in turn, require additional sewer capacity. 

Bigfork Water and Sewer District Manager Julie Spencer addressed the board with concerns that the current lift station, forcemains and wastewater treatment facilities may need to be changed to ensure that adequate capacity is available for the hotel. Due to the fact that Bigfork is unincorporated, it cannot require impact fees from the developer. 

“That’s some of our concerns, that we don’t want the rest of the community to subsidize a development,” Spencer said. 

While no official cost estimates to infrastructure changes have been gathered, Spencer estimated a new lift station and wet well alone would be $500,000. 

Aaron Whitton of Bigfork runs a hospitality consulting business and specializes in data localized to the Bigfork area. He claimed that Bigfork simply had no need for a hotel. 

“The real demand in Bigfork is actually for more affordable housing … I would ask that this board consider our resources for expansion be allocated there and not for a commercial project that our data shows we do not demand,” Whitton said. 

Ultimately the board decided to table the request for up to six months in order for the developers to complete their application with answers to the questions of traffic and sewer, as well as work with the Water and Sewer District on potential cost-shares.