In a 5 to 2 vote, the Ravalli County Planning Board has recommended commissioners approve with conditions, the Legacy Ranch subdivision north east of Stevensville.
Dissenting voters expressed concerns over water, sewer and outdoor lighting.
Legacy is a 500-unit subdivision proposal on 368 acres.
In a series of public hearings, the proposal brought more than 100 opponents to the table, with scores of e-mails, and letters, all urging the board to say no to the plan.
But through two days of deliberations, the board recommended Legacy be given a green light with conditions.
Legacy Ranch would be built in phases over a 36 year period, and if completed, would rival in size many existing towns already in the Bitterroot.
The developer has touted Legacy as a convenient, desirable living space for the future, complete with walking trails, open space, with possible retail and maybe even a charter school.
But there are protests over the loss of agricultural land on the working farm/ranch.
An organic fruit farm expressed worry over the impacts Legacy would have on its agricultural operation.
Residents said they worry about irrigation water rights and draw downs to their wells, as well as the effects it would have on wildlife and waterfowl.
The subdivision would be built adjacent to the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.
Critics said the developers financial contributions to the school districts aren't enough. But some board members said student projections if a new subdivision is built may be inflated.
Many said the board ignored the testimony of more than 100 opponents.
But the board maintained it was doing its job.
"Our process is not to say yes to the development or no to the development," said planning board member Rick Nelson. "It's only to make sure that the process that's being taken care of is being done correctly."
Kelsey Milner is the president of Bitterrooters for Planning.
"If the developer has the time and money," said Milner, "he is guaranteed that his preliminary plat will be approved and all the subtenant issues are kicked down the road."
The planning board makes a recommendation to commissioners.
Ravalli County commissioners are expected to tour the site on Monday.
The planning board's recommendation is non-binding.
Commissioners will have the final say.