Planning board approves updated Moonlight ODP
New plan has been 10 months in the making
VIRGINIA CITY—The Madison County Planning Board continued the process of updating Moonlight Basin’s Overall Development Plan (ODP) at its monthly meeting on Monday, August 27, finally approving a version of the developer’s proposal.
The Moonlight Basin spans around 8,000 acres along the northern flank of Lone Peak near Big Sky.
Because of the size of the basin and the conservation values of the surrounding mountain drainages, the ODP has been a high-priority item for landowners, homeowners and conservation groups alike.
Kevin Germain and Christina Calabrese of developer Lone Mountain Land Company addressed several of the county planner’s findings in the updated submittal they presented to the board. It was the latest of a handful of times the new ODP has been presented over the past 10 months.
Moonlight Basin’s original ODP was adopted back in 2007 and expired last week on August 31. The newly adopted version will remain in effect until 2028.
Part of what the planning board wanted to see from LMLC was more information on wildlife and natural resource impacts associated with the continued development and residential construction in the Moonlight Basin. Germain expressed frustration at this stipulation.
“After months of collaboration, we are once again dumbfounded by the planning board report,” he said. “We’ve worked with experts and stakeholders in this area, and I’ve not heard from staff what additional information they need.”
Germain was a participant in a meeting at the end of July with various individuals and conservation groups in order to further hone their priorities and plans for development.
That meeting included wildlife biologists and bear biologists from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), Jack Creek Preserve, Madison Conservation District and Wildlife Conservation Society, Trout Unlimited and the Madison River Foundation, including others.
“We’ve had a lot of dialogue with stakeholders,” Germain noted of the meeting. “The ODP is all about collaboration, and we’ve come up with an extensive list of mitigation efforts.”
One of those efforts is the continued use of wildlife cameras, which have been installed in the Moonlight Basin since the original ODP was adopted in 2007.
Where Moonlight has been remiss, Germain said, is in reporting updates on the wildlife activity those cameras capture. Such reporting is one of the conditions of the newly adopted ODP.
Another condition in the new ODP is the periodic provision of a comprehensive recreation plan, which would help to review and set buffer areas on wetland and riparian areas and watch the impact of recreation on those habitats. This would mean further collaboration with FWP and other natural resource and wildlife experts.
A particularly sticky issue at Monday’s meeting was the distinction between conservation easements and deed restrictions in the ODP language.
Proponents of conservation easements prefer the fact that they are usually entitled to more legal protections than deed restrictions, which are classified under common law. Easements are also eligible for charitable tax deductions and receive greater deference in case of disputes. Deed restrictions can, if needed, be terminated, but conservation easements exist in perpetuity for the protection of natural resource and public benefit.
Much discussion took place over seemingly minor semantic elements of the new plan, but planning board president John Fountain noted that there was a reason for that.
“There’s no planning process like this anywhere in the world: Aspen, Vail, Telluride, Steamboat…none of those are like what we have,” Fountain said. “So, this is going to be the level of questions you’re going to get.”
In the end, the fourth time was the charm for the Moonlight ODP. With concessions on the part of both the planning board and LMLC, the board approved a version of the plan with most of the conditions still intact and much of the language clarified.
At the meeting, Germain also offered updates on a couple of relevant projects that have been on the planning board’s radar for nearly as long as the ODP itself:
• Jack Creek Road: with a landslide area bringing part of the road down to a single lane, and Jack Creek Road being the only way out of parts of the Moonlight Basin in case of emergency, repairs have been a high-priority issue. Germain said a temporary repair will begin this fall, with a permanent fix hopefully completed by spring 2019.
• Solid waste facility: a temporary facility has been established in the Pony Express parking lot in Big Sky while a permanent facility gets built on the Strawberry Ridge tract. As development in the Moonlight Basin continues, the current facility is too small to accommodate all the subdivisions in the area.