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Kalispell Avenue rezoned to retain character of neighborhood

by HEIDI DESCH
Whitefish Pilot | July 21, 2021 1:00 AM

Showing its support for residents' request to preserve the character of the Kalispell Avenue neighborhood, Whitefish City Council Monday night approved a zone change for three blocks of the street.

“Thanks to the neighbors for coming together on this,” Councilor Steve Qunell said. “It’s refreshing having people taking part in preserving the things we like about Whitefish.”

A group of neighbors on the street came before Council in April to request a zone change for three blocks on the west side of the street between East Third Street and East Sixth Street. They wanted to protect the character of their neighborhood and make the zoning match what was already in place across the street to the east.

Council showed early support for the request directing neighbors to submit an application to the Planning Department for the change.

On Monday, Council approved changing the zoning from WR-4 high density multi-family housing to WR-2 two-family residential for the three blocks of Kalispell Avenue.

The WR-4 zone is intended for higher density residential purposes including for buildings with up to seven units and for limited nonresidential uses. The WR-2 zoning district is intended for residential purposes to provide for one-family and two-family homes.

The change is consistent with what’s outlined in the city’s downtown master plan.

Councilor Andy Feury also thanked the neighborhood for its hard work and challenged any other areas in the city to come forward if they have similar issues.

“We often get up because the zoning doesn’t necessarily match what’s on the ground, but we can’t change that unless the neighbors come together and say we want this to happen,” he said. “Without that our hands are tied.”

During public comment on Monday, neighbors reiterated their desire to keep the neighborhood just as it is with mostly single-family homes.

Sarah Canepa said residents on Kalispell Avenue like their neighborhood.

“The goal of the neighbors is to maintain the residential character of the neighborhood,” she said. “There’s a disconnect with different zoning on each side of the street. We’ve seen how Whitefish is changing, but there are things we can do to preserve our neighborhood.”

Gale Munski, who noted she grew up in Whitefish, clapped when Council approved the change.

“I’ve seen growth and changes and one thing that is so important is to maintain some semblance of old Whitefish,” she said. “We need to keep some part of Whitefish like it used to be.”

Mike Howke told Council the zone change is needed to, “keep the integrity of the neighborhood intact.”

The majority of the homeowners on the west side of Kalispell Avenue pursued the zoning change for the three blocks by garnering petition signatures from about 76% of the affected landowners. The zoning change required a petition of the owners of 65% of the land area to initiate the change, under city zoning code.

Four of the 20 property owners affected did not sign the petition, the planning department notes.

Placing single-family zoning directly adjacent to commercially zoned property such as on Highway 93 typically isn’t a good idea because of the potential for conflicts, the planning department noted in its staff report, but in this case, the new zoning would better match the character of the rest of Kalispell Avenue that already is adjacent to the commercial development along the highway.