Council approves major apartment housing project

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  • A schematic design of the proposed Riverbank Residences along the Whitefish River. (Schematic by Ecco Design)

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    A schematic design of the proposed Riverbank Residences shows how the entrance to the apartment project would look from U.S. Highway 93. (Schematic by Ecco Design)

  • A schematic design of the proposed Riverbank Residences along the Whitefish River. (Schematic by Ecco Design)

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    A schematic design of the proposed Riverbank Residences shows how the entrance to the apartment project would look from U.S. Highway 93. (Schematic by Ecco Design)

Whitefish City Council last week approved a project that looks to construct 234 rental apartments on U.S. Highway 93.

The Riverbank Residences is planned to include seven buildings to house apartments on the former North Valley Hospital site. Of the total number of apartments included is 47 deed-restricted affordable housing units that will eventually be managed by the Whitefish Housing Authority. Developers have said some of the apartments are also designed to provide additional workforce housing.

Though the project earned a unanimous vote of approval, Council asked several questions about the project and did add conditions to the project in an effort to protect mature trees on the property.

“I’d like this project to be way less dense,” Councilor Frank Sweeney said. “I’d like there to be some ownership [housing] and some different types of units.”

Council at its Jan. 7 meeting due to a lengthy agenda delayed a decision on the request for a planned unit development overlay for the property. On Jan. 22, several members of the public again expressed concerns about the project including its density and the potential impact to traffic particularly along Columbia Avenue and 13th Street.

Sweeney acknowledged the traffic concerns.

“We will have a traffic problem here, but we’re also going to have to work to improve it,” he said.

Riverbank Properties plans to extend Columbia Avenue from 13th Street south through the site. It also plans to extend 15th Street from the highway into the property. Both streets would be constructed to city standards.

Public Works Director Craig Workman said the Montana Department of Transportation is expected to complete a safety project that would improve the intersection of U.S. 93 and 13th Street. A date for that hasn’t been set, he noted.

Council placed two conditions on the project aimed at protecting large trees along the highway and river on the property by prohibiting construction activity near the trees and also requiring that any trees that die be replaced by similar trees.

“We have seen promises of protection of trees by developers and no real demonstration of that,” Sweeney said. “The trees keep these buildings appropriately screened.”

Council also placed a condition on the PUD that the housing could not be used for short-term rentals.

About 3.75 acres, or 31 percent of the property, is proposed to be as common area open space including along the Whitefish River. The developer plans to construct and deed to the city a paved trail along the Whitefish River and also create more primitive walking paths along the river. Five parking spaces are proposed near the paved path to facilitate public use of the river trail.

Parking spaces in the site are planned at a total of 321 off-street spaces in addition to on-street parking.

The deed-restricted affordable apartments will be designated for those with incomes of 60 to 100 percent of the adjusted area median income. A two-person household making $32,000 per year would be considered at 60 percent of median annual income and would pay $800 per month in rent under the proposal, according to city planning staff.

The area median income for Flathead County for a two-person household is $48,400. This is also referred to as 100 percent area median income.

The build-out of the site is expected to occur in one to two years, according to the application with the city.

Replying to a question from Council, City Manager Adam Hammatt said the city has been approached by the developer about the possibility of providing tax increment finance funds to assist with infrastructure for the development.

“We’ve only had preliminary discussions,” he said. “If they make an official request we will bring that to Council to vote on.”

The former hospital building on the site was demolished about three years ago and the site has been vacant ever since.

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