AP NEWS

Kalispell Planning Board seats newest member

March 31, 2018 GMT

The newest member of the Kalispell Planning Board doesn’t have plans to move any mountains, but he does make a living helping people figure out how to best live on them.

Kurt Vomfell, who was appointed to fill a seat vacated by Steve Lorch earlier this year, owns and operates Terra Designworks LLC, a landscape architecture firm that specializes in integrating building plans on particularly complex sites.

Vomfell works mostly on high-end residential construction on mountainous terrain, taking building plans and examining topographic maps to determine where infrastructure can go to minimize impact. He also monitors job sites throughout the construction process.

“We focus on a lot of habitat protection and native plant restoration,” Vomfell said.

His current job is the culmination of nearly two decades in the planning and landscape architecture world. He grew up in the Detroit area and graduated from Michigan State University in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture.

After that, he moved to southern California for 10 years where he worked in the design and project management of master-planned communities, luxury apartment developments, themed water parks and other high-end residential projects.

In 2011 he moved to Montana, drawn by an affinity for the northern forests he grew up around in Michigan, and settled in the Flathead. Vomfell lives in Kalispell but the lion’s share of his work is in the vicinity of Whitefish, he said. All of his projects are in Montana, but he is also involved in a large development near Big Sky.

Locally, he did some design work pro bono for the group that installed large climbing boulders in Lawrence Park in 2016. Other than that, he said his firm doesn’t do much work in Kalispell, so he would not have to recuse himself from debate very often, if at all.

Vomfell said he doesn’t have any radical plans to immediately bring to the Planning Board, but over the long run he hopes to encourage city-wide plans that make Kalispell more pedestrian friendly and prioritizing projects that increase the density of housing over continued sprawl of single-family homes into open space.

“I think building up is a good thing in almost every situation,” Vomfell said. “Density isn’t a bad thing.”

He said it was natural for people who live in a rural setting to want to maintain that type of housing, but he was also aware that to maintain any open space in the valley and continue to encourage economic and population growth, the city would have to encourage high-density projects closer to its center.

He also said he would like to hold developers accountable and make sure the city gets as good a deal as possible when they approve large new profitable housing developments.

“I think of myself as a realist,” Vomfell said. “Any kind of project has constraints, but anything we can do to improve the functionality and aesthetics of the community is always a good thing.”

Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or pfrissell@dailyinterlake.com.