Council approves lakeshore variance

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City Council last week approved a minor lakeshore variance permit to allow a homeowner on Whitefish Lake to install large boulders and vegetation to stabilize the existing bank at his property.

Brett Wrathall applied for two permits with the city to perform work in the lake and lakeshore area at his property on Parkway Drive. In addition to the minor variance, a standard construction permit was also requested to install a stone landing and steps, along with applying gravel to an existing gravel beach.

Council approved both permits.

“This is the best possible option we have to prevent erosion and protect the lake,” Councilor Katie Williams said.

Councilor Andy Feury pointed to work on Flathead Lake that shows that gravel beaches can save the lakeshore from eroding.

“Research is showing us that gravel beaches will save us and maybe with that and the large boulders we can avoid any further erosion,” he said.

Wrathall proposes to stabilize the current bank with the strategic placement of large boulders. The existing bank is steep and is over 6-feet in vertical height.

City Planner Bailey Minnich said the bank is quickly eroding due to the water level of the lake contacting the toe of the slope, accelerating the erosion process and the existing house is within 10 feet of the top of the slope in some areas and directly adjacent to the top edge of the slope.

“The applicant is proposing to maintain the existing slope of the bank with the placement of strategically large boulders to stabilize the shoreline,” Minnich said. “Due to the unusual topographic circumstances, including the overall height of the bank, strict enforcement of the regulations would result in an undue hardship and potentially cause more disturbance to the overall lakeshore protection zone.”

Minnich said to comply with the current regulations, the owner would have to complete a major re-sloping project along almost the entire property, which includes 100 feet of lakeshore. The other option would be to construct a retaining wall along the shoreline, but regulations consider that as a last option after installing riprap.

Those alternatives would drastically alter the characteristics of the shoreline, Minnich noted.

Feury agreed that the option presented by the owner for boulders was the best for addressing the issue, and he noted also the most visually appealing.

“Our lakeshore regulations are concerned a lot about aesthetics,” Feury noted. “We’ve seen banks eroding around the lake and we need to find ways for people to prevent houses from falling in the lake, while visually being the least impactful as possible.”

Under the standard lakeshore permit, the owner requested to replace a wooden landing and stairs with a stone landing and stairs, and one-time gravel placement of 11.5 cubic yards of gravel to the existing gravel beach.

After hearing from a neighbor of the property who claimed the dock at the home is larger than allowed under regulations, Council also added a condition that the size of the existing dock at the property would be in compliant with regulations for the work to take place.

The Whitefish Lakeshore Protection Committee recommended approval of the two permits.

The Lakeshore Protection Zone is defined as the lake, lakeshore and all land within 20 horizontal feet of the average high water line at an elevation of 3,000.79 feet.

• Council also approved hiring a consultant to assist in creating a sustainable tourism management plan for the city.

The city is working with the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau to create the plan.

Council approved a contract with Applied Communication and The Hingston Roach Group not to exceed $35,000 to create the plan by June.

The goal of the plan is to look at the issues facing Whitefish related to tourism growth such as housing, transportation, infrastructure and quality of life.

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