Annexation of a property at Whitefish’s south gateway that could lead to a large mixed-use development goes before City Council for a vote on Monday.
Council is set to vote on whether to annex and zone 11.63 acres of land at the southeast corner of the U.S. 93 and Montana 40 intersection. The property is currently in the county.
City Council meets at 7:10 p.m. at City Hall, 418 E. Second St.
Upon annexation the property would fall under Business Transitional District zoning. The property is surrounded by residential on one side and commercial on three sides.
Though Council will only consider annexation and zoning, the developer of what’s being called Alpine 93/40 is planning for a project that would include 210 housing units along with about 15,000 square feet of retail space filled with neighborhood-type businesses. Plans call for 21 deed-restricted affordable units under the city’s Legacy Homes Program.
“These are not luxury apartments,” lead developer Alberto Valner told the Whitefish Pilot. “We want to provide attainable and affordable housing.”
Comments regarding the annexation and potential development have been mixed. Those in support say the annexation would lead to developing critical housing while critics cite concerns about the increase in traffic, access to the highways, pedestrian traffic safety and whether the project is appropriate for the gateway into town.
Heather Dietrick in an email to Council said planned features of the project with businesses, a playground and neighborhood atmosphere would benefit the entire community.
“The project will provide critically needed affordable housing in Whitefish in an aesthetically pleasing structure with plenty of amenities to benefit the community,” Dietrick said.
A 30-year-plus homeowner of Whitefish, Thomas Bandy, said the project would be a wonderful addition to the city and “contribute significantly toward relieving Whitefish’s critical housing needs.”
Future growth south of Montana 40 is detrimental to the area, Garth Wells, owner of nearby Whitefish Marine, said in an email to the city. Wells said the municipality should focus on more important issues facing Whitefish, like infrastructure, rather than expanding city limits.
“First, the main issue with annexation is the future cost of building would be prohibitive due to the city’s incredibly expensive building permit fee structure and the city’s high tier architectural standards,” he said. “Whitefish is currently experiencing a low/median income housing crisis that has been widely acknowledged. Driving up the cost of living by capturing future development properties serves to frustrate the crisis.”
A homeowner in Emerald Heights, Jenny Cooper said placing a high density apartment abuting a nice subdivision of homes doesn’t make sense.
“This is going to cause a myriad of issues, most especially increased crime in our neighborhood as well as dangerous traffic complications not only throughout [the] small, quiet country neighborhood, but the already dicey highway access,” Cooper wrote.
Access to the property would be off of Montana 40 and Emerald Drive. As part of the process, the city would annex Emerald Drive making it a city road.
As part of the conditions of approval for annexation, the developer would be required to upgrade the portion of Emerald Drive within the annexation area to U.S. 93 to city street standards. Maintenance of U.S. 93 shared use path, the sidewalk along Emerald Drive, street trees and all internal landscaping would be the responsibility of the property owner.
The property is not connected to city water or sewer, but it is available north of Montana 40. New construction on the property would require connection.
Plans for the project call for phase one construction to begin next summer, with the first units completed by end of 2025 or early 2026.
ALSO ON the agenda, Council will hear a presentation from Northwest Community Land Trust as it seeks to place a ground lease restriction on two lots in the Trail View Subdivision. The land trust is looking to work with the developer of the subdivision to purchase the land under two of the homes to preserve the affordability of the homes.
The trust has secured $200,000 in funds from the Montana Department of Commerce to use to bridge the gap between the buyers’ approved mortgages and the purchase prices of the homes.
The trust is seeking approval from Council to change the restrictions on the properties.
Council will consider an ordinance amending its zoning code regarding casinos. Currently, casinos are only permitted with a conditional use permit WB-2 zoning district within the Casino Overlay Zone, which is the west side of U.S. 93 to Baker Avenue from West 15th Street to Commerce Street. The change would not count casinos with five or less video gaming or keno machines as needing to follow those regulations.
Council will vote on an ordinance updating its requirements for accessory dwelling units as a result of changes in state law under Senate Bill 528. Units can now be up to 1,000 square feet in areas where single-family homes are allowed and eliminate requirements for parking, building height and setbacks.
Council will consider a request from Gordon Tain and Michelle Janz for a conditional use permit to use an existing primary residence as a guest house at 2120 Houston Drive.
Council will consider a resolution creating one-way traffic on East Sixth Street between Park Avenue and Pine Avenue. Traffic will only move from west to east on the section of street.
Features Editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or email@example.com.