The FlatIron Ranch subdivision, a planned 551-unit development on 451 acres of farmland outside Hamilton, will be the largest ever approved in Ravalli County's history if commissioners sign off on it at the end of this month.
"We're going to look like LA," says Rich Morrisey from Bitterooters for Planning, which opposes the project.
In 2006, when Arizona-based Shiloh Development along with property owners Bradley Mildenberger, Mildenberger Properties LLC, and Lowell Olin first proposed FlatIron, it got bogged down in red tape and fiery debates about how the region should grow. Then it was ensnared by a backlog at the county planning department that collided with changes to growth policies and a lawsuit filed by several developers.
Now the project is resurfacing. And it's garnering more opposition. During a Ravalli County Planning Board meeting last week, 16 of 17 locals testified against it. Concerns centered on increasing traffic, the impact on groundwater, and the erosion of farmland.
The planning board voted 5-2 to recommend denial of FlatIron's subdivision application. But a newly elected county commission—perceived by many as distinctly pro-development—took the county's reigns in January, and it will have the final say. That leaves folks like Morrisey worrying that the project could move forward despite public outcry.
"These guys are so pro-growth," Morrisey laments.
Ravalli County Commission Chairman J.R. Iman says he understands the concerns. But he's also a believer in a landowner's right to maximize their investment. "What about the rights of people who have owned this agricultural property?" he asks. "You can't tie a man to the plow because he owns a certain number of acres."
The project would be rolled out in 15 phases over 30 years. Shiloh Development plans on setting aside 117 acres as open space and is offering $365,000 to help pay for initial roadway improvements. It also says it will invest in a high-end wastewater treatment facility to better ensure groundwater is protected. "I would call it a well-planned development," says Jason Rice from Territorial Landworks, a civil engineering firm representing Shiloh.
The development goes before the Ravalli County Commissioners June 30.