Apartment project doesn’t match neighborhood, would increase traffic

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Whitefish residents should pay close attention to our City Council’s actions at the upcoming Jan. 21 meeting. Council is poised to vote on a proposed multi-family housing project in the neighborhood near the Whitefish High School, Muldown Elementary School, and numerous preschools. Everyone in Whitefish should be aware, and quite frankly, alarmed, at the scope and scale of this project, and how it will affect you and your children, no matter where you live in Whitefish. City Council is considering this project, despite the outpouring of concern and protest from local neighbors and concerned citizens, because it may provide “affordable housing.” We are the immediate neighbors of this project, and we ask the rest of our Whitefish neighbors to consider our concerns, and join us in sharing them with City Council, as follows:

First, this project does not conform to or comply with our Whitefish growth policy. The growth policy provides: “When the zoning district(s) applied to a neighborhood allows higher densities and different residential types than those that exist in the neighborhood, the most likely result is that new development and redevelopment will not reflect the character and qualities of the host neighborhood.”

Here, the two proposed 18-unit, two-story apartment complexes do not fit in this area or this piece of property. The style and architectural design of these complexes do not fit the style and character of this neighborhood. The neighborhood primarily consists of modest, single family homes. The proposed 36 units, 54 parking spots, and club house with hot tub and common area is far too much.

By right, the owner of this property can build 14 units per the current zoning. Most neighbors agree that this lot should be used for infill including three or four units for affordable workforce housing. Let’s create 14 attractive, small footprint single family homes that are in character with the neighborhood.

Instead, the developer is asking for a conditional use permit to allow 36 units on this site. We will have two box-like, multi-story apartment complexes as seen in Anywhere, USA. Profitability is, of course, the developer’s primary motivation. He does not consider the character of the neighborhood in his proposal.

Next, transportation quality and function are entirely inadequate for the issues that exist in this neighborhood already, and adding 36 apartments with multiple occupants and over 60 cars will only exacerbate the already ridiculous traffic flow. We are still waiting for infrastructure improvements to mitigate congestion and improve traffic flow in this neighborhood.

Perhaps when we have a few more near miss accidents or a child is indeed injured, the city may finally do something about the traffic problem. Anyone who has a child in the school zone, or works in the schools, should be gravely concerned about the inadequacy of the existing infrastructure.

We need to slow down the approval process and be thoughtful in our approach to providing affordable workforce housing, while maintaining a livable traffic plan.

Furthermore, the proposed development does not satisfy the requirement for adequacy of public services for the area. Without adequate grid infrastructure, another 36 units will turn the streets in this quiet neighborhood into major thoroughfares to the existing schools and housing. There are no sidewalks on Eighth Street or Park Avenue south of Fourth Street. With existing neighborhood parking, there is no room on the streets for the additional traffic flow. There are not enough parking spaces proposed in the development, which will only add to the street parking problem. The city has proposed that a local access service alley for the people that live on Park Avenue between Seventh and Eighth streets become a one way street to alleviate congestion. This alley is already used as a short cut for people dropping off kids and trying to avoid the congestion. Our service alley should not be turned into a thoroughfare.

Finally, the City Council must consider neighborhood compatibility and mass and density. We hope they will agree that this project is just too big. It does not conform to the local character of the neighborhood.

This area consists mostly of modest, single family homes. The value of these homes has increased, but the people who have lived here for up to 40 years are the same people who work in our local schools, restaurants and retail shops. They are the railroad employees, the contractors who build our homes and raise their families, and the retirees who helped create this place we call Whitefish.

Children meeting at a neighbor’s house and walking to school, the 80-year-old cancer survivor who walks every day through the neighborhood visiting with old friends, folks walking their dogs and planning birthday parties are the people who make up this neighborhood.

We understand that the city wants to create more housing for the influx of people who find Whitefish an attractive place to raise a family. What about the people who are already here? What about the people who already have worked hard to make this neighborhood what it is? We have invested in our properties and improved our neighborhoods.

We understand the importance of affordable workforce housing, but the proposed buildings do not conform to the existing neighborhood and would not improve our neighborhood.

Check the zoning of your neighborhood. Find out what is allowed on your own property or on your neighbor’s property. There are many pieces of land that were zoned multi-family residential/high density in 1982. A lot has changed since that time.

City Council’s new priority seems to be to build 1,000 dwelling units throughout Whitefish as quickly as possible. They have been tasked with the requests set forth in the Whitefish Legacy Homes program and they want to get it done.

Please get informed, get involved, and by all means, show up! The city is listening. This project would not be at a third phase of review if our neighbors hadn’t gotten together to discuss and mobilize. Please join us at the next City Council meeting on Jan. 21 and share your own concerns.

Tony Veseth, Christina Larsen, Brian and Mariah Joos, Josh Smith, Judi Lessard, Kim and Rob Akey, Greg Loberg, Pete Seigmund, John and Marie Fleming, Sara Thorman, Ali Smith and Brent Jameson, Erin Flaherty and Holly and Andy Hunstberger

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