In a unanimous decision, the Ravalli County planning board said Legacy Ranch subdivision would have no significant, negative impact on agriculture or adjacent farmers.
The board will weigh other criteria like wildlife, water and public health and safety Thursday.
Legacy Ranch is a 500-unit development proposal on 368 acres north east of Stevensville. If its 15 phases are completed over 36 years, Legacy would be larger than some existing towns in the Bitterroot.
The board is reviewing up to 2,000 pages of information collected through hearings and site visits.
The owner of an organic family fruit farm said Legacy threatens the family's livelihood, their water and the wildlife around them.
"I feel our concerns are not being addressed," said the farmer.
But board members said the proposed subdivision land is marginal.
"It's very shallow soil," said board president Jan Wisniewski. "It takes lots of water and it takes lots of fertilizer."
Lone Rock resident Jim Rokosch disagrees. He said a significant portion of the land is classified as prime farmland, if irrigated. He said the farm has sufficient water rights. "You are putting communities through hell, and the individual citizens are placed with an unfair burden."
The board has yet to review effects on water quality and quantity. Legacy adjoins the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. Many residents testified they worry about their irrigation and drinking water.
"The implications and water volumes and potential impacts on adjoining well owners," said board member Vito Ciliverti, "deserves extensive and thorough review.
The board also reviewed detailed information on easements, public access and liability.
The voluntary board's recommendation is only advisory to commissioners. The board will continue its deliberations at 5:30 Thursday.
That hearing will be held in the county commissioners meeting room.
County commissioners are scheduled to visit the Legacy ranch site on Monday, April 22.