Three hotels proposed in Moonlight
Madison County reviewing overall plan and Overlook subdivision
As you wind down toward the Madison base area at Moonlight Basin, off to the right is a wild swath of land proposed to become the Overlook. It’s imagined to be a lower-density neighborhood between the “amenity centers” of Madison Village and Ulery’s Lake, offering both the solitude of the forest and convenience of a planned community.
The Madison County Planning Board continues to scrutinize the Lone Mountain Land Company’s (LMLC) proposal for the 98-unit Overlook subdivision, while also going through the thick and detailed “overall development plan” or ODP for the total buildout of Moonlight, which includes another 203 proposed units. A big part of the mix are hotel rooms spread across three separate establishments in the Three Peaks, Lee’s Pool and Madison Village “neighborhoods.”
Kevin Germain, LMLC’s vice president for planning and development, said this new focus on nightly guests is the big addition to the original ODP, which was approved more than 10 years ago.
“The only difference between what we applied for and had approved in 2007 to what we’re asking for now is an increase in density,” explained Germain, referencing maps, documents and the whiteboard in a second-floor conference room at the LMLC’s office in Town Center. “The reason for that is 10 years ago we didn’t envision as many hotel rooms as we envision today. And we base that on more mature communities like Jackson Hole. They have a much greater bed base, hospitality bed base than Big Sky currently has. And so we have more hotels in our plans.”
Moonlight’s ODP includes a hotel room capacity comparison with Jackson Hole, Park City, Aspen and Vail and concludes, “While Moonlight Basin’s current occupancy rate averages 18 percent, it is worthwhile for long-term planning to understand that mature resort communities represent a 50 percent average occupancy. One way that these more mature resort communities increase their occupancy is through increased use of overnight accommodations in hotel units.”
One of the best places to park at the current Madison base area is off to the west, where the pines creep up next to the lot. You can drop into the trees and ski down to the Six Shooter lift. The Moonlight ODP does not include a metric for “secret stash lift access parking spots,” but it does acknowledge big changes at the Madison base.
“The only spot that we have anything planned for over two stories is in the Madison Village,” said Germain, who was joined in the LMLC conference room by Christina Calabrese, LMLCs director of planning. “That’s the area where we can get up to four stories tops. So, you know, we want ridge tops not rooftops to dominate at Moonlight. That’s our whole plan. Christina and the team have been very thoughtful about how they design, so you still look out and see trees.”
The Madison area “will be our core ski village” and it will be anchored by a hotel and some residential units “so that will be the high density,” said Germain.
Calabrese added, “In 2007, Moonlight was approved for a total of 1,651 units. We requested the additional 203 units in this ODP to accommodate additional hotel density. The 2007 ODP anticipated some hotel density, but we believe that our overall mix of units should accommodate increased hotel density.”
Calabrese is the point person on the many details wrapped up in the Moonlight ODP. She met with the Madison County Planning Department in late January and is now waiting for it to finish its staff report for the volunteer and advisory planning board.
Calabrese said the ODP is a “master plan” similar to what cities and towns use as a baseline filter for the kind of development the community wants to encourage. It’s a massive document with environmental assessments, wildlife studies and a game plan for building out Moonlight over the next 40 years.
“This is really what we foresee growth to be long-term and we analyze that growth, the impacts and the tax revenue, and the children coming into the school system. And that’s the overarching document. It’s a framework,” said Calabrese, stressing that each subdivision—like the Overlook—will be scrutinized in more detail with public comment for each and must be approved by the county commission. “Madison County will look back to the ODP and see how it fits in.”
The Overlook and other amoebas
Right now, the county is simultaneously considering both the ODP and the “pre-application” for “Overlook 1 Subdivision.”
LMLC wants to subdivide 39.24 acres into 13 single-family residential lots, create one 20.5-acre open space lot and build two new access roads located off Moonlight Trail west of Lower Ulery’s 3 subdivision.
The Overlook and other areas slated for development in Moonlight sit as blobs on planning maps. Germain and Calabrese call them “amoebas.”
“We’re showing amoebas on a map,” said Germain. “And these amoebas were developed based on restraints in land planning. This goes back to 2003 when we started planning Moonlight Basin. The 8,700 acres we had left at the time, we looked at all the constraints first.
Where’s the critical wildlife habitat? Where are the wetlands? Where are the white bark pine stands? Where are the avalanche zones? You name it, and that’s layer upon layer upon layer on a map and what comes to the surface are the amoebas left to develop that are less sensitive.”
Germain continued: “The original Moonlight purchase was 25,000 acres. The 25,000 acres was the broken link in the wilderness because you have a Lee Metcalf Wilderness area to the north and a Lee Metcalf Wilderness area to the south. The original partners in Moonlight when they bought it in ’92 stated that they wanted to protect 80 percent of that 25,000 acres in the form of conservation easements or some other form of protective status. And the way that we’ve accomplished that to date is we sold off 17,000 acres to conservation buyers. Of that 17,000 acres, 14,500 acres currently has conservation easements on it. And so we’re left plus or minus 8,000 acres. If you look at our ODP, in the areas we have proposed for development, we’ll exceed that 80 percent. We’ll be at about 85 percent of that original purchase—it will be left as open space or somehow protected.”
A “conservation community”
Conservation groups are not united in support of large-scale development in sensitive areas like Moonlight, but the ODP does include a supportive report from the Wildlife Conservation Society.
“We commend the developers for the commitment to a ‘constraints-based land-use planning process’ and use of a clustered development design,” wrote Kris Inman, WCS community partnerships coordinator, in a letter to Madison County. “WCS has a long history of research and collaborative conservation in Big Sky and Madison County. Our collective experience includes wolverine research in the Spanish Peaks and Madison Range… Due to its ecological importance, WCS continues to invest our staff’s time and resources in Big Sky to help meet the community’s interest in ensuring that wildlife thrive in the area for future generations.”
WCS’s work and other analysis by wildlife experts is a necessary part of the process, said Calabrese, because Moonlight is a “conservation community” and the product of a long-term, national trend.
“Conservation communities have really grown across the country with this approach of setting aside a bunch of land,” said Calabrese. “It’s something that Fish, Wildlife and Parks will tell you is a shift that they’ve made in their philosophical approach to development. From a wildlife perspective, the idea that by concentrating those neighborhoods and really keeping the development boundary compact, you’re allowing for so much more connectivity.”
Describing Overlook and other Moonlight neighborhoods of the future, Calabrese said, “They’re walkable. The services are there, their amenities are there. They have less reasons to get in the car. From there, we use that point of departure to connect them into trails throughout the year. The people who want to live in Moonlight Basin, they want access to outdoor recreation. Their home is the place to put their stuff. It’s not where they are spending the majority of their time.”
Germain interrupted: “I’m going to use a quote from Christina. ‘It’s islands of density in a sea of wilderness, a sea of open space.’ And that’s our planning methodology at Moonlight, to concentrate in these islands of density.”
Moonlight is on its third owner since 2007 and in the new ODP, LMLC added Moonlight Territory to the list of islands and amoebas it hopes will grow into neighborhoods.
“Moonlight Territory showed no density 10 years ago, and now we have three pods of density,” said Germain. “It’s off the Jack Creek Road, on the north side of the basin. The previous ownership did not consider
it to develop. The existing ownership says that may be something that we want to do.”
“The thing that we try to communicate to the planning board is, we’re not just going to blanket that neighborhood with development,” said Calabrese. “It’s understanding what the boundaries of the neighborhood might feel like, where the edge of that is before you’re really in a different place.”