Board gives thumbs up to housing project

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The Whitefish Housing Authority and Homeword, Inc. are planning to develop an affordable housing apartment complex on Edgewood Place. This preliminary architectural rendering, by Jackola Engineering and Architecture, gives the concept for the project but is not final in shapes, forms, textures and colors.

The Whitefish Planning Board gave a favorable recommendation for an affordable housing apartment complex on Edgewood Place.

The board voted 6-1 Thursday to recommend a planned unit development overlay for the project, which looks to create a 38-unit rental housing complex on the site that is largely vacant.

Homeword, along with the Whitefish Housing Authority, is seeking approval for the development of the project on 2.15 acres. The plan for the project calls for three buildings to house the rental units.

“I think about how much of a working class Whitefish used to be and all the work we’ve done to get back to that,” board chair Steve Qunell said.

“There was an enormous amount of hours that went into this and I’m very excited to see this come through,” board member John Middleton added. “It’s everything this town needs. I hope it becomes a great example of what affordable housing can be.”

Homeword last month was awarded a low income housing tax credit from the state Board of Housing for $6.7 million to develop a rental housing project for residents with an area median income of 60 percent or less. The housing authority is looking at developing an $8 million project with Homeword of Missoula, and plans to break ground on the project summer of 2019.

“We’re very excited for this project and think it’s great for the community,” said Ben Davis, chair of the housing authority board.

The property on Edgewood Place just off Wisconsin Avenue was once a mobile home park, but is now largely vacant except for a few accessory buildings.

The plan calls for one building to be located parallel to Edgewood Place with three units in two-stories. The second building would be two stories with 11 units located on the eastern portion of the property and perpendicular to Edgewood Place. The third building, located on the northwest portion of the property would be three-stories with 24 units.

As part of the PUD, Homeword is requesting three deviations from the city zoning code requirements. They are seeking to reduce the number of parking spaces by 22 to a total of 57 parking spaces provided in off-street parking. They are asking for the three-story building to be constructed at a height of 43 feet — the height limit under code is 35 feet. Also, they are seeking to have 10 feet setbacks on two of the buildings rather than the 15 feet as set in city code.

Heather McMilan, with Homeword, and Toby McIntosh, with Jackola Engineering which is designing the project, explained the request for the variances.

Homeword has developed a number of affordable housing projects around the state and requested a reduction in parking to 1.5 spaces per unit based upon what it’s learned about parking needs on other projects.

The height variance allows for the construction of the three-story building.

“Having a third story provides enough units to make this project viable,” McMilan said. “We can also do a gable roof on the building that better fits in with the neighborhood.”

The reduced setbacks were designed to assist in making the three building fit on the site, while creating a nice development for the residents who will live there.

“It’s about the economics of the project,” McIntosh said. “The three-story building makes this financially feasible, but also provides good pedestrian connectivity through the site and allows for green space between the buildings.”

“The 10 feet for the setback creates a little more room between the buildings so they are not crowded,” he added. “We could do 38 units in one building to meet the setback [of 15 feet] but we don’t think that fits best into the neighborhood and isn’t best for the residents.”

Planning Board member John Ellis made motions that would have prohibited the use of the variances for the setbacks and the height of the one building. However, the motions never got traction with the rest of the board. Ellis was ultimately the sole vote against the project.

“I’m 99 percent in favor of this project and I’m glad that lot will be redeveloped as affordable housing,” he said. “But I’m questioning the rush to give away our side setbacks on every project when everyone says they need a reduction in setbacks for aesthetics. I don’t think that’s grounds to sacrifice our zoning. Our views are the rights of all our citizens.”

The density of the project is 17.67 dwelling units per acre.

Access to the site is proposed to be off Edgewood Place on the south end of the project and Woodland Place on the north end of the project. Sidewalks would connect to Woodland and Edgewood.

Open space areas are located throughout the development and a small playground is planned. In addition, a community room is planned.

The northeast portion of the lot is being reserved for a future phase. Homeword indicates there could be up to 14 units in this area, but there are not immediate plans for development.

Planing staff is recommending approval of the project with 13 conditions.

The request will go before City Council on Jan. 7.

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