Council likely to deny 54-unit apartment on Skyles

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Whitefish City Council is poised to shoot down plans for a 54-unit apartment complex on Skyles Place after hearing from neighbors that it would increase traffic in an already busy area and that the project doesn’t fit with the character of the neighborhood.

City Council last week voted unanimously to delay a decision on the request for a conditional use permit for the two apartment buildings proposed for 519 Skyles Place. It will revisit the issue at its Aug. 19 meeting.

Councilor Andy Feury made the motion to postpone the decision, but said he was only doing so with the intention to deny the project at the next meeting after city staff had the time to prepare documents that would support denial. He said Council has heard pleas from neighbors who don’t want the apartment complex there.

“The traffic circulation in this neighborhood is not compatible with this,” he said. “This is an issue of public safety when it comes to police and fire. This will put additional strain on services.”

Councilor Frank Sweeney said he first joined City Council because of a development in his own neighborhood that didn’t make sense.

“The issues you’ve raised are important,” he told those at the meeting. “The neighborhoods are important.”

About 10 neighbors spoke during the public hearing last week raising concerns about increased traffic on Wisconsin Avenue and surrounding residential streets that would likely result from the project, and concerns about the density of the project combined with the height of buildings planned as not fitting in with the established neighborhood.

The developer is listed as 519 Skyles Place LLC in Redondo Beach, California. The developer’s plan calls for constructing two buildings with the north building to include 12 studio and 12 one-bedroom units and the south building to include 30 units made up of six studio, 12 one-bedroom and 12 two-bedroom.

David DeGrandpre, a land use planner representing the developer, said the property is zoned for high density residential and the Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Plan also designates it as the same use.

“The goal is to provide housing for the community,” he said. “The project is intended to create housing at market rate. While it is private development the goal is to provide affordable housing for working people.”

The property is currently developed with an auto repair business, commercial storage business and three residential homes.

During public comment, Julia Arnold said the apartment project was an unnecessary change to the character of the neighborhood. “This is a great family neighborhood,” Arnold said. “There are a lot of homes in that neighborhood that are for rent. I don’t know any of my friends that want to live in these cramped apartments.”

Scott Countryman said the city has been advocating for the need for affordable housing, but that shouldn’t come at the detriment to those already living here.

“This is saying we don’t care about safety, we care about building affordable housing and we’re not even getting that with this project,” he said.

The Skyles project proposed at 54 units would have a density of 35.9 units per acre. The affordable housing Alpenglow Apartments on Edgewood Place approved in January includes 38 units at a density of 27.5 units per acre. An apartment complex at the corner of Woodland Place and Iowa Avenue includes 37 units and has a density of 35.9 units.

Pam Sbar, like many of those who spoke, talked about high volumes of traffic on Wisconsin Avenue and how that’s spilling into adjacent neighborhoods as continued development occurs in the corridor.

“We need to be looking at the cumulative effects of what’s happening on Wisconsin Avenue for development, not just this project,” she said. “The city can’t control what the state does on Wisconsin, but the city can control the pace of development.”

A traffic study completed as part of the development application with the city showed the project would generate a total of 395 new weekday trips when completed.

The study indicates that the project would not create any new roadway capacity problems, but does recommend the developer work with the city to develop a plan to implement a left-hand turn lane on Wisconsin Avenue northbound onto Skyles Place.

Wisconsin Avenue is a state highway which prevents the city from completing projects within the right-of-way for the street. Planning staff, however, recommended the developer provide just over $11,000 as a cash in lieu fee to assist in funding a future turn lane for the road.

Concerns have also been raised about a lack of a left turn signal at the intersection of Wisconsin and Edgewood Place backing up traffic over the viaduct primarily as folks head to City Beach.

Public Works Director Craig Workman said the city continues to contact the state regarding traffic issues on Wisconsin.

“We haven’t made any progress,” he said. “But we continue to remind them and bring it to their attention at every opportunity we get.”

Since traffic would likely use Iowa Avenue, the city did say it would require the developer to work with the Public Works Department to implement a plan for slowing traffic in the area.

The project property is zoned WR-4, or high density multi-family residential, which is intended for higher-density residential purposes and limited non-residential uses. The Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Plan adopted in April 2018 also designates the property as high density residential with the intent that it would facilitate redevelopment of the property.

The project requires a conditional use permit because it is split into two buildings.

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