C-Falls, density and sprawl 

If you love the landscape, live in town. Or so the saying goes. It’s a phrase aimed at changing the way people think about development. In the Flathead, this one-liner has yet to find its voice as a bumper sticker, but the concept comes to mind, especially when people in Columbia Falls start talking about Cedar Park.

Right now, this high density development on South Nucleus Avenue in C-Falls is nothing more than a concept itself. It’s neatly sketched out on foamboard with maps and floor plans. The idea is to transform 20 acres of forest, wetland and riverfront into a blend of condos and townhouses. Within this mix, developers want to fold walking trails, a rehabilitated stream corridor and park space where the public can continue to stroll, swim and sunbathe by the Flathead River.

Another developer might decide to fence the property off, but the Cedar Park developer insists he wants to give something back to the community. Columbia Falls will get a park, and the entire valley benefits from any residential development that doesn’t sprawl out into the rapidly vanishing countryside. Density is an antidote to sprawl. At Cedar Park, the developer is calling for a dosage of 94 units on 20 acres. This has the neighbors up in arms, as their quiet residential streets will see increased traffic if Cedar Park comes to be.

Consider this alternative: If those 94 units were spread out on five-acre plots—typical ranchette size—they would eat up one square mile of countryside, notes Tri-City County Planning Director Tom Jentz.

In Whitefish this year, concerns about high-density leading to increased traffic eventually won out, and the planned Beaver Estates project shrunk from 57 units on 20 acres to four units on 5-acre single family lots. Currently, the future of Cedar Park rests in the hands of the Columbia Falls City Council. They’ll probably tinker with the density, but if it drops all the way down to single-family lots, then a fence will likely go up and C-Falls won’t get its riverside park.

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