Planning Board recommends changes for CUP process for certain businesses

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The Whitefish Planning Board last week recommended approval of zoning changes for the secondary business district, as well as changes to how public notice would be displayed.

The board voted unanimously for the two changes during its Nov. 21 meeting.

The first of the changes require hotels, motels and automotive service stations with convenience stores to obtain a conditional use permit to operate in the WB-2 secondary business district. Alongside that, buildings over 10,000 square feet in the WB-2 zone would be required to obtain a CUP, much less than the current CUP requirement of 15,000 square feet.

The WB-2 zoning district is generally located along U.S. Highway 93 and is intended for retails and services that need large parking, display or storage areas and depend upon proximity to the highway.

Speaking during public comment, Mayre Flowers supported the changes but said she hopes to see them return to planning staff before City Council to tighten things up. Flowers said the issues of hotels within the Highway 93 corridor and the water availability issues that come with it have been raised in the past, and she’d like to see some of those comments included as well.

“I would encourage the board to support this proposal and to forward it on to council, but I think it is imperative you revisit the staff report and make it more robust. I think it could use significantly more findings and information,” she said.

Tom Thomas was not encouraged, however, saying he felt the changes were made in case the corner of Montana 40 and Highway 93 becomes the home of a new gas station and convenience store.

“It’s so obvious you crammed this through, because as soon as you found out that Town Pump was coming in, you decided you were going to make this initiative, and I just think that you’re wrong. If I was you, I’d accept them,” he said.

Board Chair Steve Qunell said he sees the need for both changes.

“The two kinds of developments we’re talking about are very highly water intensive and sewer intensive, and we have an issue with that right now. There is concern about our water and sewer capacity, and hotels and motels use a lot of it. Gas stations and service stations, it’s an interesting kind of development, that nobody wants to be next to one and it would be nice to have a little more review of where those come into our city,” he said. “I don’t see this as being a big issue.”

Planning staff notes that requiring CUPs for hotels and motels is justified because they may necessitate additional review due to potential pressures on city service and their overall large footprint. The justification for requiring CUPs for service stations with convenience stores is due to the traffic impacts and light pollution created, as well as the necessary large paved areas for parking.

The change to require a smaller CUP for smaller footprints than rules currently necessitate would “better dictate how new development meets the goals and objectives of the city and any adopted long-range plans,” planning staff notes.

The planning board also recommended approval to a change that would increase the public notice distance from 150 feet to 300 feet and require posting of a sign on the property during the application for a CUP. The changes would require notice to all adjacent property owners within 300 feet of the property applying for the CUP. A notice would also be placed on the property at least 15 working days prior to the public hearing. Notice would still be required to be published in the newspaper.

Montana law doesn’t have requirements for CUP notifications.

Flathead County, Kalispell and Columbia Falls all send a notice to neighbors located 150 feet from the subject property, and require a notice in the paper. None of those jurisdictions require on-site signage.

The board voted unanimously in favor of the changes.

The board also unanimously voted to recommend a conditional use permit for Jason Evans to construct an accessory apartment on Somers Avenue.

All items will move to Whitefish City Council on Dec. 2.

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