Op-Ed: Enraged Kalispell Resident Rebukes Kalispell City Council-Reason: Spring Creek Park Development

Angry mad frustration emotion face.

An enraged Kalispell resident submitted the following Op-Ed to Montana Daily Gazette DEMANDING the Kalispell City Council take to heart many issues concerning Spring Creek Park and other over development taking place in Flathead County. This resident is not alone in their premises.

Dear City Council and Zoning/Building Board:

The approval of Spring Creek Park (Kalispell MT) by the Kalispell City Council (which is conveniently not in the backyard of any of the City Council members) and the pure dismissiveness of the City Council on this subject is absolutely abhorrent and disgusting. The members of this who dismissed the long-term damages to surrounding areas not within the city are short-sighted and borders on the very long-term liberal behavior Flathead Valley residents have long since feared the massive influx of people.

The City Councils’ response and lack of compassion demonstrate a lack of care for the people already living and struggling in the valley and a vicious willingness to use a particular demographic to advance an agenda for money purposes only—in this case, building as many houses as possible in the name of creating more housing for affordable housing while knowing it won’t help those in affordable housing demographic.

However, the Council has refused to acknowledge the numbers, the zoning, and the outcry from people around the area they are trying to rezone… Does the Council really believe a three-story apartment building won’t affect the people around them, that it won’t affect views, demographics, the traffic, and overall- residential area? That’s ludicrous and boarding on negligence. Either they don’t know because they haven’t cared enough to look (or ask), or they believe Kalispell and Flathead County residents are too stupid to understand the numbers and call them on their greedy actions.

But, to the more critical point, the City Councils’ actions concerning Spring Creek (and even the rezoning of Tronstad development to shove in even more houses by making the lot sizes smaller) are a bold middle finger to the residents of the valley who are already here, letting them know they value the money of out of state developers more than they value the residents here who are currently struggling. The city has let it be known they don’t care about the detrimental downward spiral their decisions will cause; they only care about one thing: MONEY and bringing in more money. And in their quest for money, they’ll push more and more people out of the valley who have lived here for years, who are part of the workforce, culture, and beautiful history of the Flathead Valley and Kalispell. But, these deeply rooted people don’t matter, except as a means to an end: build in the name of affordable housing, though it won’t affect affordable housing.

The Council gave the finger to locals; instead, they would rather have the demographics of remote workers shoving out hardworking Montanans from their homes. The Council has let it be known they value the money of developers over the needs of the students and families struggling within overcrowded school systems. The City Council has let it be known they are willing to use one demographic—those needing affordable housing—to throw under the bus as justification for a development no one wants—which will only provide housing for people flooding the valley—and which will negatively affect many others in the neighborhood. The Council has let it be known; they don’t really intend to deal with the fallout or the consequences of their actions; it’ll be for someone else to deal with in 5 or 10 years because they refuse to look further than the money being thrown at them.

Spring Creek and others like it are approved in the name of affordable housing while knowing this will not help those in the affordable housing struggle due to the sheer cost to build. The results of the city’s actions (on people they’ve indicated they could care less about because those people live outside of city limits) are a downward spiral and struggle on the Tax Base of West Valley. This is a spiral that will push other people on the cusp of making ends meet out of their houses, only adding to the affordable housing crisis or pushing more of our working force out of the valley while eating up all the farmland and ignoring the zoning regulations and precious dark sky. The city has let it be known they value big city money and have no scruples about turning Kalispell into Jackson Hole, Missoula, Bozeman, or Fort Collins—unavailable to the majority of Montanans—to line the city’s coffers. The Council has let it be known that they don’t care about true Montanans and the hard work we’ve put into this valley because they’re willing to look the other way and let Montanans be pushed out by remote workers fleeing big cities rather than slow down and make smart, careful planning decisions based upon Montana values and appropriate pre-planning for infrastructure.

To make the decision—which they blow off as having to be in someone’s backyard, but not theirs conveniently—without fully considering the ramifications on the already struggling tax base shows poor forethought, poor planning, and a pattern of negligence as they’re supposed to be considering what is best for those already in the valley, not just wildly building houses for others to continue to swamp the valley (as Jarod Nygren stated in February the Council would be focusing on) without the appropriate infrastructure in place. If they are aware of the negative effects on the tax base, especially those of West Valley, the lack of infrastructure, and the fact there are better places to put a high rise, and still choose to do it knowing the potential financial impact on current residents in the form of higher taxes, levies from the school, and not enough EMS or Sheriffs, then they not only show deliberate negligence in their greed but a blatant lack of ethics and care for those they were elected to represent! Growth and smart growth are two different things, something this city council would do well to learn the difference between. Should they actually bother to learn it, the application of said prudence in intelligent, sustainable growth would be deeply appreciated by those living here.

Jarod Nygren said the housing issue was a simple supply and demand problem. By building, regardless of the long-term impacts on the valley, the urban areas, and the tax base, it’ll bring the housing prices down. This has been the chant in the name of affordable housing for well over ten years, and yet…it hasn’t worked because the raw cost is climbing. Meanwhile, council members like Carlson tell those being heavily impacted to just “accept those changes” when she’s not the one who will suddenly be looking at row houses and apartments inappropriately placed on the outskirts of town versus closer to the districts that are best served by high-density housing. She’s not the one losing dark sky, quiet streets, and the ability to not have someone three stories up looking into your backyard. Who will be footing the cost to provide public transit and other city amenities appropriate for high-density housing? Oh, yes, the tax base.

Yet, this incredible short-sightedness on the Council needs to be addressed, as they are willing to insinuate false hope to those in need of affordable housing and willing to shove those on the cusp of housing issues into the crisis in the name of growth—for who cares who they step on, destroy, or smash into the ground in the meantime—for we should just accept it. Ignore Montanans, and just accept the big corporate greed because our Council isn’t affected, and it should just be accepted. No wonder Montanan’s are irritable and upset.

However, there is a problem with this. None of this will help affordable housing. Despite what Nygren indicates, you can’t bring the price of housing down with building alone; this is a fallacy and ignorant. The RAW cost of materials has to allow the house or development to be built within the affordable housing range. What does that mean? According to HUD, affordable means 30% or less of your monthly income. According to the 2019 census, the median income is around $62k-65k. This means a house payment of $1400-1500 a month; that’s a $350k house in this valley. For a small family of 4, looking at a 2000sq foot home at a building cost of $270-$300 an sq foot—and rising—is going to cost around $540k in raw material just to build. Realistically, to get the $350k number, we’re looking at a house of 1200 sq foot or less, and even that’s going to be tight. This doesn’t include the impact fees, the sewer, the lot, or all the other little fees the developer is going to have to include in his price to cover the cost. All bumping up the cost of these homes, not to mention said developer is going to make a profit, so however much he plans on making per home, let’s say 10% profit at a guess. That brings the price closer to $595000, without all the above-mentioned fees even added in. 20% down for a mortgage is $120k. Remember, we’re building in the name of affordable housing. Even if this demographic that is being used to justify this build has managed to get down payment down, they’re looking at a house payment of $2800, which is well above the range of affordable housing income payment.

Yet, this is how the City Council justified the over-development of this lot in the name of affordable housing. 600+ units, which due to the high price of raw materials, will be beyond the cost of those in affordable housing, meaning the city is creating space for 600+ new families to swamp the valley, where we don’t have the infrastructure. How many of these houses will be kept as rentals? How many were used for Airbnb? This doesn’t assist in the housing issues; it only causes more problems. A rental owner will not lose money on the rental, so the rental price will have to be above the mortgage cost to make them some money. People moving into these houses won’t be working in the workforce at the affordable housing level; they’ll be working remotely, skipping out on the state taxes. Their kids will be going to West Valley School, which has been struggling with crowding for several years, and as a result, West Valley will be forced to push through a levy for expansion or a middle school. The tax base effect by all their new neighbors will now have a heavier tax burden of potentially $200-600. But, as Carlson stated, we should just suck it up and accept it; after all, West Valley residents aren’t in city limits, so what does she care?

Accept the EMS service, which is over-extended, the over-burdened schools, and the higher taxes because the city just wants to money—no matter the effect on those already here—to flood into their coffers. We should just accept it because the city doesn’t really care about the impact on those of us who live in the rural, who will have to foot the bill: the single or fixed-income home, which the increase in taxes will push out. We should accept the city doesn’t really care about the impact on the children who are struggling or slipping through the cracks. Kids who are at high risk for suicide and who might only be alienated more once they’re moved to an overcrowded high school.

But, as Carlson has said, we should just accept it. It’s okay because it’s not in her backyard; it’s not her impact. I don’t see her adjusting the zoning in her neighborhood to make it more appealing to a developer. The city council gets more money; our kids get more crowding in schools, our roads get beat down faster, are exhausted service industry gets more abuse, as the tax base, we get to pay more to fix the streets for the increased traffic they deliberately encouraged, we see our dark and wild spaces trashed a destroyed, we get levies to pay for the new schools which need to be built because of the increased crowding the Council deliberately created, and many will get to move because they can’t afford to live here because this city council doesn’t believe in thoughtful, careful, planning. All in the name of affordable housing. This Council just believes in outsider money no matter the cost. They just believe they should build, build, build in the name of affordable housing that doesn’t exist because of the cost of the raw materials, offering hope to a demographic (maybe prices will come down this time, no, we’ll keep building) that never gets a chance on the return because of national cost to build.

Here is a thought for this Council: Despite Carlson saying we should just accept it and Hunter saying it has to happen in someone’s backyard-even though high density should be closer to downtown—Flathead should demand the Council does better. Contrary to what appears to be this Councils’ thought process—and the fact the numbers show building to lower costs at a high raw cost obviously doesn’t work—the City Council does not have to okay every development that comes through. Flathead Valley and Kalispell do not have to build a new shiny home for every refugee who wants to flee California, Texas, Arizona, or New York to have a home here!

The houses on the market already built can’t be afforded by those needing affordable housing; building expensive new houses isn’t going to bring that price down due to the cost to build is so high, limiting the inventory, and limiting the swamping of this valley until the infrastructure is prepared for more. Proactive, not reactive. Get our crime under control.

Maybe this City Council should stop looking at the dollar bills and start looking at the people who are already here and have been here and find a real solution to help and stabilize that base before they shove them all out so Kalispell can be ‘Little California’ in the mountains they seem eager to create for everyone moving in. Just stop and let the water find its level, so to speak.

To our City Council. Do better. Clean up your values, maybe your ethics, definitely your lack of empathy, and get off your high horse and remember the people you came to serve, not just give lip service to. No one is saying the valley won’t grow, but you don’t have to allow overdevelopment, and you can do it better than abusing the hopes of those in the affordable housing crisis with developments that won’t help bring costs down. You can do it better than straining and driving out the local tax base with roots here because they don’t live within city limits. You can do it better than just saying ‘yes’ to every developer who flashes money at you.

Residents of Kalispell: Demand more of your City Council; consider a recall when they stop listening to you and ignoring what is going on. When they promise you the same thing and their tactics have yet to work, demand they change. Demand better. will save this valley by demanding development be slowed down and be thoughtful by fighting negligent zoning changes and holding elected officials accountable. I know I’m not the only one who lives in Montana to see and experience more than three-story row houses and apartments blocking the mountains and lighting up the dark sky. I know I’m not the only Montanan who appreciates the raw beauty of Montana. Only when we stand up will we be able to save the Flathead.

Consider a recall of Carlson and Hunter as a direct result of their dismissive comments and attitudes toward yourself, your friends, and your neighbors.

We deserve better.


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