Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Nathan Bourne

Proposed 60-lot Subdivision Fills Barn

Seeley Lake Community Council


January 18, 2018

SEELEY LAKE - The Seeley Lake Community Council packed the parking lot and filled the barn with residents wishing to learn more about a proposed subdivision at their Jan. 8 meeting.

In other business, the council’s newest member, Lee Boman was sworn in. The council also discussed its trails fund, had an air quality update and accepted public comment, including a petition to roll back Seeley Lake’s reduced speed limits.

The 60-lot subdivision is called Swan Mountain Estates and is located east of the north end of the Seeley Lake Airport in Powell County on approximately 175 acres.

Consultant Kurt Fredericks said he and developer Martin Cahoon came up with this plan because Cahoon had to drive 110 miles to Helena to build a spec house to feed his family. There are not enough building lots in Seeley Lake.

Many jobs would be created in Seeley Lake during the construction of all the houses and would have a long lasting economic impact for the service industry.

Fredericks feels that the homes built in the proposed subdivision would mostly be vacation homes but hopes there will be some full time residents as well. Because most of the homes would be only used part time it would not create congestion on the roads that access the area.

Lots are planned to be similar in size to the lower parts of Double Arrow. Fredericks doesn’t want larger lots because they get “contaminated with junk.” Covenants will be in place to eliminate outdoor storage of things to keep it clean.

Cahoon said the proposed layout has parkland adjacent to any currently built houses on neighboring land so that nobody will have a house built right next door to them.

Fredericks said that the subdivision’s tax base will be in Powell County but all the supplies and jobs created will come from Seeley Lake.

Even though the project is in Powell County, Fredericks said they brought it to the Seeley Lake council to try and work though and address all the issues people may have.

“We don’t believe in adversaries, we believe in allies,” said Fredericks.

Can the developers do anything to create some affordable housing? Fredericks didn’t know that there would be a way to incorporate affordable housing into this project but said he has done a lot of affordable housing in the past. He could help find and develop some other parcel for that.

There are about 300 un-built lots on Double Arrow for people to build their vacation homes, what Seeley really needs is affordable housing. If you would consider that as part of your plan then you might actually be doing Seeley a favor. Cahoon said he had spoken with a local realtor and she said there are only about 60 available lots to build on at any given time, not 300. The other un-built lots are not for sale therefore not available.

Fredericks suggested that Double Arrow be asked to provide land for affordable housing. He could help build it. Fredericks said he sees “starter” homes all over the Double Arrow and it is not an exclusive place to build luxury homes.

Northern Powell County has restrictions on subdividing below 160 acres to protect the upper Blackfoot Valley. Is there some kind of exception for this parcel? Powell County Planner Carl Hamming was in attendance and said there is no exception for this parcel. The developers would have to get a variance from Powell County though the Board of Adjustments before bringing it to the Planning Board for subdivision review.

What roads will the subdivision be accessed off? Three access points are planned off Eagle Port, North Canyon and Canyon Court.

How did you get access off Canyon Court? They have purchased an easement from one of the lots between theirs and the road. This is also how they gained access off North Canyon and Eagle Port.

Why weren’t neighboring landowners notified when these easements were given? Private landowners gave the easements, so there was no public involvement.

Have you checked the status of those roads as to if they are really county roads? The developers believe that the roads are all county roads, though not maintained. Several residents in the room argued that they are not county roads but are private.

To deal with maintenance on the roads, funds would be collected through a homeowner’s association of the 60 lots. Fredericks said they want to be good neighbors and help fund maintenance where they are adding traffic.

If Gary Lewis’s proposed gravel pit to the east of this subdivision is approved, will he have access through North Canyon as well? There is an easement across the subdivision for the property on which the gravel pit is located. There are no roads currently constructed for that use.

Skyport Way (leading into Eagle Port) is also a taxiway for airplanes to access the airstrip from hangers built on the road. Is there going to be an issue adding all the traffic with the aircraft? Fredericks didn’t know that could be an issue but he questioned how it worked currently. He added that three of the people involved in the project are pilots who regularly land and use the Seeley Lake Airport.

Will the rifle range north of the airport affect the subdivision? Will the residents eventually try to shut it down due to the noise? Fredericks said he could write it into the covenants to prevent people from protesting the noise from the shooting range.

Will new residents be able to complain about noise from the airport? This can also be addressed with covenants.

What will the impact be on downstream wells if 60 lots are added? To protect the dirt and both surface and ground water, the subdivision will require level two and level three septic systems that cost three to four times as much as conventional systems. Fredericks said they are basically individual treatment plants.

Fredericks said these systems are 99 percent efficient compared to most town’s sewer systems that are only 50 percent efficient.

The subdivision won’t be drying up downstream wells because they only have the right to a single well, drawing 35 gallons per minute and a maximum of 10 acre feet per year. It used to be that a subdivision could drill wells on every new parcel but the law changed in 2014.

The developers did not offer an explanation as to where the water would come from or if 60 new homes needed more than that one well.

The Seeley Lake Sewer treatment plant is proposed less than a half-mile from this subdivision. Why don’t you hook to that and help the town pay for its sewer instead of putting in $15,000 to $20,000 individual septic systems? Fredericks said they are probably just going to pay for the individual systems themselves. They are the highest quality that can be built and Fredericks wants to make sure they are treating their waste to the highest level.

Cahoon was concerned that the main pipe to the sewer plant would have to be dug a half mile north first to get around the end of the airport and then a half mile south before going west. This would add to the cost along with having Trail Creek to cross to hook the entire subdivision to it.

Are you planning to sell as vacant lots or will they have houses built on them before being sold? Fredericks said it would probably be a mixture depending on what the market will bear.

Since the subdivision would be in Powell County but the services would come from Missoula County, how would the subdivision pay for those services such as law enforcement, fire and medical responders? Fredericks said they have had discussions with the fire department and can work things out with them. They are considering using private security.

Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss said she has the same concerns over the subdivision impacting services provided by Missoula County and local tax districts without adding to the tax base.

Tax districts including both schools, the fire district, refuse district, Seeley Swan hospital district, cemetery district and refuse district will all be impacted but receive no tax funds.

Curtiss added that maintaining the roads is a fraction of the services that will fall on Missoula County. There are ways to annex the property into some of the districts but not for all the issues. There is no mechanism for Powell County to give Missoula County money for things like law enforcement.

Hamming said that Powell County would not be providing services since it is so far from any towns in the county. The developers were told to work things out with Seeley Lake and Missoula County.

Curtiss said she knows that when you are out enjoying the valley it doesn’t matter what county you are in or what forest you are in but financially, those boundaries have big impacts.

Curtiss doesn’t begrudge them for wanting to do this subdivision but wants them to understand the issues. She said she does get a little frustrated when projects like this are done so people can have their second or third home when we have people who need a first home.

Fredericks responded that they could figure something out to address the financial impacts to Missoula County and the local tax districts.

“This is meant to be a benefit for Seeley, not a detriment,” said Fredericks.

Due to the proximity to Seeley Lake, all of the people in the new subdivision will be providing money to the local economy.

Trails Committee Funding

The council has approximately $10,000 in their trails committee account. Since there are so many new council members, the council wanted to discuss how the funds could be spent.

Missoula County Parks and Trails Program Manager Lisa Moisey explained that the funds were associated with a couple of recreational trails grants.

A couple of years ago Moisey said she had explained that local trails groups could come to the council with funding requests. After the council vetted the requests, it would be sent to the county for approval to disperse the funds. No requests have ever been submitted.

The funds can be used for maintaining the trails or improving trails with things such as kiosks or benches. Funds cannot be used for constructing new trails on Forest Service land.

Ron Cox who has been on the council’s Trails Committee for several years said in the past the funds have been used to lend out to groups to construct trails.

When a trail is constructed with grant funding, the work has to be completed before the grant will pay out. The committee would provide funding to bridge the gap between when the work was done and grant funds would be received. Cox wants to continue using the funds for this purpose.

Moisey said the funds would not need to be paid back to the council moving forward. The fund would slowly be depleted until it was gone.

The Trails Committee has also been spending money on maintaining the trails it had constructed in the past when they were eligible to receive grants. Each year, the council received and approved the trails budget for maintenance.

Cox said there used to be a council member on the Trails Committee but hasn’t for years. The council agreed that would be a good idea and voted to place Lee on the committee.

Air Quality

Missoula County Air Quality Specialist Ben Schmidt gave a brief update on the air quality in Seeley Lake. This year has been significantly better than last year due to better weather conditions.

Seeley has had only two days over the standard this heating season compared to last year that saw 19 days over in January alone. One of the days this year that was over was due to outdoor burning. The burn was approved based on the weather forecast and the forecast turned out to be wrong.

In the past, a woodstove change out program has significantly improved air quality.

This year the health department is doing a pilot program to test out manufactured fuel, firewood made from sawdust. Three homes were selected to receive two pallets of the wood.

Schmidt hopes to receive good feedback to help learn about possibly using manufactured wood as a solution to finish cleaning up Seeley’s air.

The council still has a couple thousand dollars earmarked for air quality and is looking for ideas to use it.

In Other Business

During public comment, Seeley Lake resident Bruce Friede presented the council with a petition signed by 275 people requesting the speed limit return to where it was before it was reduced by the Montana Department of Transportation at the request of the council.

Friede thinks lit speed limit signs would fix speeding issues without reducing speed limits or requiring more law enforcement. He added that pedestrian operated crosswalk signs would solve the issue of cars speeding through crosswalks.

The council accepted the petition but did not take any action or indicate if it would take up the discussion of returning the speed limits.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 12, 6 p.m. at the Seeley Lake Historical Museum & Visitors Center. Pizza and beverages will be provided starting at 5:30 p.m.


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