Kalispell has seen unprecedented growth over the past decade, doubling in both population and geographic area. But now that the boom has busted, the city turns to the task of rewriting annexation policies to avoid stretching its resources to the breaking point.
"This is a time for reflection," says Kalispell Planning Director Tom Jentz.
The Kalispell City Council and planning board began a series of discussions on annexation in February, prompted by the Trumbull Creek development's interest in becoming part of Kalispell. The development—like several subdivisions annexed in recent years—rests more than a mile beyond city limits, and would become another island of outlying property requiring city services at a high cost to local taxpayers.
"It's a very linear city," Jentz says, "which makes it difficult to provide consistent police protection...It starts putting stresses on your service delivery."
Jentz maintains it's long been in Kalispell's best interests to accept such proposals despite mounting strain on police, fire and snowplow services. If not incorporated into the city, such developments are usually adopted by the county and contribute to an extensive "wall" of rural subdivisions, he says.
"Kalispell in 2001 took the position that we needed to start working with this development community because we were getting totally surrounded by rural, county subdivisions," Jentz says. "Pretty soon the city has no place to grow."
The Kalispell City Council recognizes the concern, but sees perhaps a greater need to shift focus toward city in-fill. Swaths of previously annexed land closer to Kalispell's core remain largely undeveloped while scattered subdivisions farther out receive full city services.
"If you look at our planning map, you can see how many of these huge subdivisions have already been approved and annexed to the city," says Councilman Tim Kluesner. "And there's not house-one built on them."
Last year's abrupt halt in development activity gave the city a much-needed opportunity to regroup and review its direction, addressing the previously unanswered question of how Kalispell ought to grow.
"I would call it a reassessment," Kluesner says.