Expansion planned for Saddlehorn in Bigfork

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Proposed expansion of the Saddlehorn community in Bigfork and a zone-change request that would open the door to short-term rentals within the development will be considered by the Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee during public hearings on Thursday.

The applications involve Saddlehorn II and III, LLC, located along the south side of Montana 209, east of the intersection of Montana 209 and Montana 35 and within the Bigfork Zoning District.

According to design guidelines for the Saddlehorn community, it is a “pioneer-themed” community that overlooks Flathead Lake. The community, a residential mixed-use development, currently includes about 856 acres in its planned-unit development and about 240 acres of platted subdivision. Saddlehorn II, which is almost 559 acres, received preliminary plat approval in 2007 and commissioners extended that approval through December of 2020.

One request is for an expansion of the existing development, which is zoned SAG-5, suburban agriculture with a 5-acre minimum lot size. According to the application, the owners want to include an additional 56.37 acres of property to the north and west of the current development that will allow for “further development of Saddlehorn without reliance on the added acreage of Saddlehorn II, by maintaining the ratio of 2.5 acres per lot.”

The other Saddlehorn request is a zoning text amendment. The applicant is requesting to eliminate certain permitted uses, including stables and riding academies that are “not in demand by residents and owners in Saddlehorn.” A large area had been set aside for such a use, but according to county planning documents, the property owners now propose to repurpose the land for various community amenities.

The request also calls for the addition of short-term rentals as a conditional use, and to allow for shared driveways. According to the application, “seasonal accommodations have in the last 12 years become a more prominent use throughout the county and in the Bigfork area.”

Short-term rentals are a conditional use in the SAG-5 zone and the amendment would add short-term rentals as a conditional use subject to an administrative conditional-use permit.

Proposed permitted uses within the planned unit development include attached and detached single-family dwellings, a camp and retreat center, caretaker facilities, and low-impact recreation facilities.

Among other things, the proposed text amendment will “modify the PUD to reflect the development pattern of the last 12 years in the Saddlehorn community.”

By definition, a planned-unit development is an overlay in zoned areas that creates flexibility for a developer and in return the public gets greater input in a project.

According to the Flathead County Planning Office website, when utilized in conjunction with a subdivision, planned-unit developments can afford a developer bonus densities. In other words, projects that are subdividing land can create more lots than would normally be allowed “by right” under the existing zoning. “This financial incentive for utilizing the PUD zoning overlays exists to promote more predictable and community-friendly projects,”

The Bigfork Land use Advisory Committee will meet at 4 p.m. on Thursday at the Bethany Lutheran Church in Bigfork. The committee’s recommendation for approval or denial will be forwarded to the Flathead County Planning Board for consideration.

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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