Subdivision proposal sinks 

The plan for a subdivision at the mouth of blue-ribbon Rock Creek appears dead in the water.

The Ranch at Rock Creek is listed for sale for $5.75 million. And Michael Barnes, owner of the 200-acre parcel, plans to pull his controversial 36-lot subdivision proposal Friday during a meeting with the Missoula Board of County Commissioners, according to Geoff Sutton, a mediator in the three-year-long talks over the proposal.

“Hopefully everything will be resolved by then. I think Mr. Barnes is going to withdraw the 36-lot application, and I don’t think there will be another application put in,” says Sutton.

Katie Ward & Associates’ lists the “once in a lifetime property” on its website. Barnes reportedly bought the land for $1.1 million eight years ago, and now plans to sell 142 acres. Sutton says Barnes is content sitting on the land but will sell it for the right price.

“I don’t think anything will be happening for at least a few years, at the earliest,” Sutton says.

Barnes didn’t respond to requests for comment.

John Menson of the Rock Creek Protective Association (RCPA), a group organized to oppose the development, says he’ll keep the champagne corked until the proposal’s officially withdrawn.

“If he does, that’s great,” Menson says. “But as far as were concerned, until it’s officially pulled, we’ll still be active in being against the development at the beginning of the river because of the environmental issues.”

Menson revived the debate with a recent letter to county commissioners asking them to finally take action on the subdivision proposal. The commissioners responded and scheduled Friday’s 10 a.m. meeting. The letter came after University of Montana biologists in February completed a yearlong study of the pond Barnes dug on the property, a particular point of contention. The report concluded, in part, that significant temperature variations in the pond are likely unfavorable for ecological productivity. 

Opponents shouldn’t toss out those ubiquitous “No Rock Creek Subdivision” signs just yet. Sutton says Barnes may someday decide to submit a proposal for a 13-lot subdivision, and if the land is sold, the price will reflect the land’s development potential, unless a deal can be struck with a conservation buyer.

“What I would hope—and I’m a dreaming a bit—is that a purchase could be done…that would maybe restore [the land] to some of its original condition,” says Menson, “and maybe provide public access.”
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