Bigfork subdivision gets nine-year extension

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In an unprecedented move, the Flathead County commissioners last week agreed to extend the planned unit development for a Bigfork subdivision for another nine years.

Saddlehorn II, a residential mixed-use development planned on 559 acres south of Montana 209 in Bigfork, was approved in late 2007. 

No development has occurred there because shortly after the project won approval, a national recession and local economic downturn largely brought construction to a standstill in the Flathead Valley.

The preliminary plat for Saddlehorn II, set to expire on Wednesday, was extended by a unanimous vote from the commissioners for another two years. Because the project was scheduled to be built in 12 phases over nine years, from 2007 through 2016, developers for the project — Doug Averill and Jim Frizzell — asked the county to extend the planned unit development for another nine years, to 2025.

A planned unit development is a planning tool that gives developers flexibility to establish building guidelines that may deviate from standard zoning requirements, such as clustering homes together to allow more open space.

“This is an unusual situation,” planner Alex Hogle told the commissioners about the nine-year extension request. “We were unable to identify anything that says this is not allowable ... one of the arguments we considered was, why not?”

Commissioner Dale Lauman admitted it’s a “unique situation, one we haven’t had before.

“But, understanding the economic conditions and people trying to survive out there,” it makes sense, Lauman said.

The first phase of the Saddlehorn development was approved in 2006 for 66 cabin lots, 30 estate home lots, a commercial lodge with restaurant and meeting rooms, 11 rental cabins, onsite housing units for 70 to 100 employees, a general store, spa, equestrian center and 119 acres of open space and trails.

Much of the first-phase development still is pending. To date, eight homes have been built and 50 of the 96 residential lots have been sold, Frizzell said.

Saddlehorn drew international attention when it was approved because of the developers’ commitment to green construction and energy efficiency. Homes built in Saddlehorn must achieve energy-efficiency by using water-capturing roof design, thermal capability and reflective glass windows.

The project was recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council and was a pilot project for Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at

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