Bucky Wolford, the developer who wants to build Montana’s biggest shopping mall in Kalispell, has offered to support a public referendum on his project if opponents will drop their lawsuits, insiders say. But foes of Glacier Mall rejected the overture from Wolford.
“We can’t drop the lawsuits,” said Sharon DeMeester, leader of the group North 93 Neighbors, which has sued Flathead County over the way the project was approved. “They could set a precedent. It’s not a one-of-a-kind issue.”
A group of citizens favoring a public referendum brought Wolford’s offer to North 93 Neighbors. The mall’s opponents have pushed for a vote on the June or November election ballots. Their first petition drive fell short, gathering 3,483 signatures out of the 4,331 needed by March 8. But they’re planning another petition drive, this time challenging another aspect of the zoning changes approved by the Flathead County Commission.
Among other contentions, their lawsuits challenge the changes on the grounds that the county broke public participation laws in the planning process and violated opponents’ due process rights. One lawsuit, now pending before the Montana Supreme Court, could decide whether voters in entire counties, not just in the parts of counties outside incorporated communities, could sign petitions challenging changes in growth policies.
Even if Wolford could have struck a deal with mall opponents, it’s unclear whether the issue would have been placed on the ballot. That decision would have been up to the county commission.
Wolford would build his $150 million mega-mall and big-box “power center” on 420 acres of wheat and alfalfa fields just beyond Kalispell’s northern border. If the mall is built, critics contend it will clog traffic, spawn soulless and demoralizing commercial sprawl and close businesses in downtown Kalispell.