City updates multifamily development standards

Editor | October 21, 2020 1:00 AM

Whitefish City Council earlier this month approved a list of changes to the city’s multifamily development standards.

City planning staff recommended the changes.

Planning and Building Director David Taylor said in general the changes are intended to clarify the intent of the regulations or provide greater flexibility such as additional exceptions for things like tree retention and landscaping. In addition, changes also provide incentives for smaller building massing.

“We created more robust regulations because of the Legacy Homes Program and after a year of using those, we have some suggested changes based upon what we’ve seen,” Taylor said.

One of the major changes, includes where properties front one or more streets, new buildings must be located no more than 25 feet from the primary street frontage.

Buildings can be located farther away when separated from the street by existing mature trees that are being retained in perpetuity. Buildings still have to be placed as close to the trees as practical, and a plan has to be submitted to maintain the health of the trees and replacement as necessary.

In regard to building massing, planning staff’s interpretation of the zoning code has historically made it a requirement that apartment buildings need a conditional use permit if there is more than one building proposed on a single lot.

“That interpretation incentivizes developers to do a larger single building on each lot to avoid the CUP when multiple buildings with smaller scale and massing on a site are much preferred aesthetically,” Taylor said.

The zoning code actually only requires a CUP for “multiple principal uses on a single lot of record” and an apartment complex would only be considered a single principal use spread over multiple buildings.

Taylor recommended the change to clarify the requirement in the zoning code to match the planning staff’s interpretation and encourage smaller building scale and massing.