A big push in the canyon

Affordable housing potential meets with concern for the river

Developer Scott Altman has big dreams for the 175 acre parcel where the gravel pit currently resides off of Highway 191. 

Altman’s Big Sky LLC  project is called Quarry Big Sky. If the proposal makes it through all the steps in the strategic dance between developers and government gatekeepers – in this case with the Gallatin County Planning and Zoning Commission – it would mean a big push in affordable housing. One hundred thirty-five single family dwelling units, 130 multi family dwelling units and 170,000 square feet of commercial space, to be more specific. 

That commercial space could include a hotel, coffee shop, restaurant and convenience market. Altman has decided to collaborate with a few area nonprofits – the Big Sky Housing Trust, which would help with finding qualified applicants and ensuring the units remain affordable and Big Sky Community Organization, which would help create trails on the property’s proposed 109 acres of public use open space. 

“There is quite a bit of open space in comparison to the development,” Gallatin County assistant planning director Mayana Rice said. “The one residential structure per acre is being clustered in a portion of this land and the rest of it is being left open with trails and those types of things.” 

Initially, the land was zoned for one residential structure per five acres, so Big Sky LLC successfully crossed that rezoning hurdle.  

The Sept. 12 hearing kicked-off the initial step in the Planned Unit Development phase or PUD. Altman is seeking wiggle room in two areas: attached multi-family housing “that is located on second or subsequent floors” and flexibility with setbacks, Rice explained. 

Public comment at the hearing, including from environmental groups and Steve Johnson, a member of Big Sky Zoning Advisory Committee, encouraged caution due to the proximity of the project to the Gallatin River. 

There is no water and sewer district in the canyon and no centralized public system. The timeline for creating a viable system for the area is – according to experts – about a decade out, best case scenario.  So canyon septic systems are a little renegade and vary from highly effective to unregistered, because some were created before records were being kept. 

“It’s a very sensitive environmental area immediately adjacent to the Gallatin. If we keep going the way we are going, impairing the Gallatin is going to be a real tragedy to the community,” Johnson said, further noting that he believes P&Z understands the importance of protecting the river and “is eager to do the right thing.”   

Johnson and Guy Altsentzer, executive director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper expressed concern that Altman’s proposed separate systems, a new technology called SepticNet, flies under the radar of Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) scrutiny and regulation. 

“By having a collection of systems all of which are under the five thousand gallon a day system allows them to do what what they are doing without a discharge permit from DEQ. A discharge permit would require ongoing monitoring,” Johnson said. 

Big Sky LLC’s rebuttal to wastewater concerns was that the SepticNet technology is approved by MT DEQ and exceeds DEQ standards for groundwater discharge. 

At the Sept. 12 meeting, Commissioner Scott McFarlane moved to continue the Big Sky LLC Conditional Use Permit Modification request for the Quarry PUD. 

The commission then sent questions to Big Sky LLC – questions submitted included inquiries into wastewater, housing, traffic, topography, impact on wildlife, open space, and future development on the property. 

Big Sky LLC has responded to those questions of which the details can be found here: https://gallatincomt.virtualtownhall.net/sites/gallatincountymt/files/pa...

Big Sky LLC will go back before the P&Z commission on Dec. 12. 

“Any motion could be made on Dec. 12 to approve the PUD flexibility items they are requesting, to deny them or if they feel like they still have not answered the questions, to continue the project again,” Rice said. “If they obtain approval for the items they would like the flexibility with… they would be then coming through our subdivision process to create 23 lots: 12 residential lots and 11 commercial lots.” 

Rice noted that the full final review of the project would come at the subdivision stage. 

Public comment can be directed to planning@Gallatin.mt.gov

The public can attend on Dec. 12 at 9 a.m. at the Gallatin County County Courthouse.

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