Minimal oversight required for planned slopeside resort

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A rendering from Neo Studio shows the proposed resort development at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

If you were unaware of the recently announced plans for a Canadian development company to erect a large luxury ski-in ski-out condominium building on Big Mountain, you are not alone.

The multi-story development, known as Landmark Whitefish, will include high-end condos and extensive amenities and will offer spa services, dining options, a heated pool and more, according to developers. The building will occupy the space of the former Alpinglow Inn and is “on track” to be move-in ready by Christmas of 2021, and for $1.2 million, you might be able to snag a unit.

The project was announced in late December to the surprise of many residents and officials across Flathead County who had not been made aware that planning for such a project was underway — something that is partially due to the company not being required by local laws to gather the public’s input on its proposal. Therefore, the plan hasn’t appeared on city or county government planning agendas, and while plans for Landmark Whitefish were kept under wraps until last month, language on the condominium’s website and elsewhere suggests the touted “exclusive community” is a done deal. In one recent advertisement, the company even states, “The mountain. The lake. The town. The Landmark has arrived.”

And barring sanitation approval from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and other minor hoops to jump through, the company is able to legally proceed with the development.

Reid Keebaugh, one of the developers for the condominium, didn’t offer specifics on where that approval process with the state stands, but he did say “we are just getting our final ducks in a row.” However, according to one employee with the Kalispell DEQ office, the name “Landmark Whitefish” is not in the agency’s database just yet — a finding that might suggest the building plans have not been finalized or submitted to the department, or they were submitted under a different name.

Getting the thumbs-up from DEQ is one of the only steps required for construction to proceed. Aside from that, the City of Whitefish and Flathead County typically remain at arm’s length from what happens at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

Flathead County does not require building permits and according to Flathead County Planning Director Mark Mussman, development on Big Mountain is guided by the area’s longstanding Big Mountain Neighborhood Plan.

The document was developed and eventually approved by other county and city officials more than one decade ago and was created “within the overall framework of the Whitefish City-County Master Plan and future Whitefish City-County Growth Policy,” according to the plan. When the plan was coming together in 2006, parts of the plan garnered a fair amount of backlash from valley leaders and residents, but nonetheless, the document’s final version continues to act as a blueprint for growth on the mountain.

“In terms of land-use applications, they don’t need our review, so there is no preview and approval that is needed from the county in order to proceed. That includes the review of condominiums,” Mussman said.

The site of the former Alpinglow Inn is zoned BM-2 Big Mountain Village. According to county documents, the zone is “intended to provide a regulatory framework for primary resort residential land uses at mixed densities, and year-round resort uses including hotels, resort condominiums and similar uses oriented towards tourism and resort businesses.” Permitted uses include bars, taverns, restaurants, several types of dwellings, microbreweries and more. Conditional uses include public utility service installation, places of worship, resort area equipment maintenance facilities and more.

According to Mussman, who said he has been in contact with the company’s developers several times, everything they currently have planned for Landmark Whitefish is a permitted use. Even the height of the development, which appears in photos to be at least six stories high, is permitted. In the BM-2 zoning district regulations, maximum building height is 39 feet to the eave, or the part of a roof that meets or overhangs the walls of a building.

“We don’t administer building codes, but between historical land-use restrictions and what our restrictions say, the height meets the intent of what was established,” Mussman said.

As for other aspects of the property including water and sewer, Big Mountain again partially operates on its own.

According to Jason Hanchett, utility superintendent at Whitefish Mountain Resort, properties on the mountain use resources from Big Mountain Water Company.

“We have our own private wells and our own water storage tanks that all operate in our particular area. It’s been its own system for as long as I can remember,” Hanchett said.

The company is a registered utility and is regulated by the state.

For sewer service, Whitefish Senior Project Engineer Karin Hilding said the Big Mountain Sewer District owns and maintains its own sewage collection system, but sewage treatment is provided by the city’s wastewater treatment plant through an interlocal agreement.

Impact fees are then paid to the city for that service.

“Those fees are somewhat based on the City of Whitefish and is calculated by a water fixture count,” Hilding said. “So we won’t know what that fee is going to be until we know how many bathrooms, showers, hot tubs and that kind of thing are going to be installed. It won’t be determined until the project has been fully designed.”

There is a bit of mystery still surrounding the project, including what the final design will look like and when construction is expected to begin. But a spokesperson for Whitefish Mountain Resort recently offered words of support for the condominium, stating “It sounds very preliminary but we’re just excited someone is there. It’s a spot right there in the middle of everything.”

The historic Alpinglow Inn, which was the first resort-type condominium in Montana history when construction began in 1968, was demolished 10 years ago.

The owners of the Alpinglow Inn voted in 2007 to close the building after a preliminary structural engineering study reported potential structural hazards.

Chris Sauve, the president of the Alpinglow Inn condominium association board, told the Whitefish Pilot in 2010 the decision to proceed with demolition was a tough one, as the many original owners who raised their children in the Alpinglow over decades of winters had sentimental memories.

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