Early design options outlined for housing on snow lot

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Housing styles that as closely as possible mimic the surrounding neighborhood seems to be the preference for a proposed housing project for the city’s snow lot.

This was the general input given by about 40 people at City Hall last week as three preliminary design options for the site were unveiled.

Whitefish is hoping to turn the now mostly empty lot at the corner of Railway Street and Columbia Avenue in to an affordable housing project. To get input from neighbors and the community, along with creating conceptual designs for the site, the city has contracted with Missoula nonprofit Homeword.

Homeword has held several meetings gathering input since September, and last week presented options to the community.

Heather McMilin, housing development director for Homeword, said the options presented are to give neighbors an idea of what could potentially be developed on the site. Homeword will gather all the input given and then based on that present a few refined options back to the city, she noted, as well as give suggestions for ways to fund the project.

“These are conceptual,” she said of the options presented last week. “These are not set in stone.”

Option No. 1 calls for four duplex units along Railway and a two-story building directly north closest to the railway. A three-story building would run the length of the eastern edge of the lot. A driveway would provide access in to the site off Columbia Avenue in a hammerhead shape.

Option No. 2 places five duplex units fronting nearly the entire length of the lot on Railway Street with road access in the center of the street into the project. Road access would also be gained off Columbia Avenue. Three- and two-story buildings would be to the north and east parts of the lot.

Option No. 3 clusters four duplex units to the southwest corner of the snow lot and places a two-story building nearest the southeastern corner at Railway and Somers. At the northern most part of the lot would be two three-story buildings. Road access would come off Columbia Avenue and an extension of Somers Avenue. Currently, Somers Avenue is only constructed to the north to Railway Street. Homeword is encouraging the city to pursue gaining the ability to extend the road north, which requires obtaining permission from BNSF railway.

To view renderings of the three design options, view this story on the Pilot’s website at www.whitefishpilot.com.

Many of those at the meeting gave pros and cons for each option.

One person said they liked the options that included creating a sidewalk and boulevards along the streets. One person asked for the parking lots in the project to be screened from view, while others wanted to ensure that the viewshed to Big Mountain is maintained as much as possible.

Positive comments also resulted from rough building designs that showed visually appealing facades on all sides of the buildings.

Several in attendance expressed reservations about three-story buildings on the site.

McMilin said that keeping the lot fitting with the neighborhood is important, but also including enough units will be important to make the project viable. The options all showed about 35 housing units on the site.

“This is a delicate piece,” she said. “We have to make sure that there is enough units for it to be an affordable development. But we can play with the design to make sure the three-story doesn’t have as much impact.”

Some suggested making the larger buildings two stories where they are closer to the homes on Railway, and then stepping them up to three stories farther to the north near the railroad tracks.

City Manager Adam Hammatt said he expects to take the final report from Homeword to the city’s Strategic Housing Steering Committee, which will then make recommendations for how to move forward. Any project will likely be proposed through a planned unit development overlay, which would have to go before the Planning Board and City Council for public hearings.

“This is not the end of your input,” he said to those in attendance last week. “There will be a lot of different steps and phases where you will be able to provide input.”

The city has said its goal for housing on the snow lot site would be to create homes residents can afford who are at or near that area median income level.

The area median income for Flathead County, according to the city, for a two-person household is $48,400. The industry standard for housing is that it should not be more than 30 percent of the owner or renter’s annual income to be considered affordable.

A housing needs study conducted in 2016 followed by the strategic housing plan completed the next year showed that roughly 900 residential units are needed to accommodate employee households through 2020 in Whitefish.

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