County approves 78-lot subdivision near airport

This week, the County Commission unanimously approved the preliminary plat for a 78-lot subdivision near the airport.

In June, commissioners has delayed the decision to gather more information on aviation easements and comment from the 120th Airlift Wing of the Montana Air National Guard.

The project would subdivide 297.85 acres into the Mountain View Estates Development North with 76 residential lots ranging in size from 2.38 to 5.347 acres and two parkland lots that would be 3.766 and 2.080 acres.

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The county planning board approved the preliminary plat during their June 4 meeting, but a number of adjacent property owners expressed concerns during that meeting.

During the July 30 meeting, Lt. Col. Jason Green, operations group commander for the 120th, told commissioners that the Guard can’t take a position on the development but provided information about their operations.

Green said that they do a lot of training in the area and for touch and gos, they turn their C-130s directly over the parcel of land being developed.

For their tactical approaches, he said, they pass over the runway low then turn and come in low over the property at about 300 feet.

“Those are just things we need to do,” to train for their mission, Green said. “We’re letting you know what we do.”

Green said that across Montana, the 120th is allowed to fly at 300 feet, but “we take a ton of noise complaints.”

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He said the unit gets more noise complaints now than they did with fighter jets.

The C-130 is a big plane, Green said, that looks bigger at 300 feet.

Commissioner Jane Weber asked if the airport and 120th operations could be included in the Joint Land Use Study that looked at military operations and surrounding development.

Commissioner Joe Briggs said that when the study was conducted in 2012, the rules only allowed the review to include military operations in military owned areas.

They attempted to include the airport ant the 120th, but the rules didn’t allow it at the time, he said.

The rules have since changed, Briggs said, so the county has talked to the 120th commander about adding them to the study. Briggs said 120th officials were running it up their chain of command.

Briggs said accident potential zones, like those around the decommissioned runway at Malmstrom Air Force Base are different for commercial airports, which are governed by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA only requires small areas off the runway to be protected from development, Briggs said.

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There’s nothing in county zoning regulations currently, Briggs said, to protect those areas and the areas closest to the runway are in the city.

Weber said it was a concern to her with such large aircraft operating at the airport, but if there are no regulations preventing development, then commissioners didn’t have that as a legal justification for denying the project.

Commissioner Jim Larson asked what would happen if the subdivision was developed and then the Air Force instituted an accident potential zone.

Briggs said he wasn’t aware of that happening at commercial airports, but that there were communities that hadn’t protected their accident potential zones and lost missions.

One person spoke in opposition to the project during the July 30 meeting.

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Brian Jordan’s mother lives in the area and his family has owned the property for 50 years.

He said he and his family weren’t opposed to development but had concerns about the small lot sizes in the development and wanted it to continue to reflect the rural agriculture character of the area.

Weber said she appreciated Jordan’s concerns but “it does not appear that I have a legal basis for denying this that I can find.”

There were some concerns related to the water table, but Weber and planning staff said that would be up to the project engineers and regulated by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

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The proposed subdivision would be accessed by Airport Bench Road and at full development would generate an estimated additional 727 trips per day, according to the county planning office.

Under the proposed plan, the developer would be required to install a total of 48,000 gallons of fire suppression cisterns to cover the entire subdivision and has plans to install a total of 50,000 gallons across four locations, according to the staff report. Each phase would include the installation of two 12,500 gallon tanks in two different locations, ensuring that the entire subdivision is within 1000 feet of a fire suppression system, according to the staff report.

Since the proposed development is near the airport, the airport director has requested that avigation easements be attached to the properties regarding noise and airport traffic.

John Faulkner, director of the Great Falls International Airport, told The Electric in June that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration no longer funds noise mitigation projects near airports so they wanted the easements so that any prospective property owner would understand the potential for noise and air traffic and not try to sue the airport.