Tuesday, December 07, 2021
45.0°F

Planning board takes second crack at Big Mountain development

by HEIDI DESCH
Whitefish Pilot | November 17, 2021 1:00 AM

A proposal for a large housing development at the base of Big Mountain goes before the Whitefish Planning Board for a second public hearing on Thursday.

The planning board meets at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The meeting will also be available for remote participation.

The planning board last month first looked at the request by Arim Mountain Gateway LLC for a planned unit development that would allow for the construction of 318 housing units on 32.7 acres on the north side of Big Mountain Road and East Lakeshore Drive intersection. But after hearing about three hours of public comment with plenty of people still waiting in line, the board chose to continue the hearing until its November meeting set for this week.

The developer is also requesting conditional zoning for the project known as Mountain Gateway to allow for a commercial portion at the northeast corner of the intersection.

The planning board is expected to make a recommendation on the request that would be forwarded to City Council, which is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the project on Jan. 18.

During public comment and in letters submitted to the city, most spoke against the project saying it doesn’t fit the neighborhood, is too dense, would exacerbate traffic congestion in the area and the 32 units proposed as deed-restricted affordable housing just isn’t enough. While the few who have spoken in favor of the project said it would provide necessary housing for the community.

The developers say the goal of the project is to meet the needs of the “missing middle” by providing rental housing for those who can’t afford to buy and can’t find a place to rent. As part of the project, the developer is voluntarily participating in the city’s Legacy Homes Program providing 32 deed-restricted affordable rental units. The developer says rent for those affordable units would range from $745 per month for a studio apartment to $1,277 for a two-bedroom apartment, depending on income.

ON THE WEST side of Big Mountain Road the project proposes a 270-unit rental community with 460 parking spaces. Two buildings with common open space are proposed to be clustered in the center of the property.

On the east side of Big Mountain Road, the project proposes 24 condo units at the north end and 24 townhouse units in the central portion with access off Big Mountain Road.

At the northeast corner of the intersection, the developer is proposing a neighborhood commercial development with access off East Lakeshore Drive. Related to this, the developer has requested conditional zoning to rezone the property into blended zoning.

The proposed gross density of the site, at 9.72 dwelling units per acre, is below the 12.4 dwellings per acre that by right could be developed there without a PUD.

As part of the project, a new roundabout is proposed at the intersection of East Lakeshore Drive and Big Mountain Road. But because Big Mountain road is a state road, the Montana Department of Transportation would decide what type of traffic device would be installed at the intersection.

THE PLAN on the west side calls for two vehicle access points that would be via Big Mountain Road and one would be on East Lakeshore Drive near the north end of the project to access the apartments.

There is proposed to be 8.85 acres of open space with two acres developed and the remaining left in its natural state.

A trail would run along the west side of Big Mountain Road connecting to the existing Wisconsin Avenue bike path on the south end.

On the east side of Big Mountain Road, a new internal street would also be constructed connecting East Lakeshore Drive to Big Mountain.

This area would include about 2 acres of open space with less than a half-acre developed.

On the east side of Big Mountain Road, the developer has set aside a location for a SNOW bus stop. On the west side of Big Mountain Road, the plans call for dedicating 1.5 acres for a future fire station.

By providing the housing and the land for the fire station, the developer is seeking a zoning deviation that would allow for four stories within the 40-foot building height limit for portions of the multi-family buildings. The standard is three stories.

TWO OTHER public hearings are also scheduled for the planning board meeting.

A request for a preliminary plat by Little Bear Development is set to be considered for a 20-lot subdivision on undeveloped property located on Fairway Drive south of the Grouse Mountain soccer fields. The property is zoned WRR-2 medium density resort residential.

The developer is proposing a mixed residential subdivision to include 10 single-family or duplex lots, eight townhouse sublots in one building and two lots for condominium development — with a maximum of four units on one and a maximum of 25 units on the other. The project calls for 56 total maximum housing units on just over 7 acres.

The higher density portions of the project would be located along the north of the project with the lot for 25 condos and eight-unit townhouse lot at the north edge closest to the soccer fields. The four-unit lot and single-family lots would be along Fairway Drive.

A new private road would loop through the development connecting to Fairway Drive in two locations. All lots would have primary access off the internal road.

Neighbors of the property submitted comments to the city citing concerns with the loss of trees, loss of open space and increase in traffic.

The planning department is recommending approval of the request subject to 18 conditions. The request is set to go before City Council on Jan. 3.

The planning board will look at zoning text amendments being proposed by the city related to short-term rental regulations.

One change creates a definition that recognizes month-to-month standard long-term rentals as being different from any type of vacation rental.

The amendments include creating a designation of medium-term rentals, which are rentals of 30 to 90 days. The medium-term rentals along with short-term rentals are permitted uses in the resort residential zones and the WB-3, but planning staff says the added definition creates more tools to enforce illegal short and medium-term rentals in the long-term residential zones.

Another change will require a short-term rental registration number, hosting site property ID and property address to be listed on any advertising for the short-term rental.

The changes were initiated by City Council, planning staff notes, to further improve regulation and enforcement.

“They will help staff track legal short-term rentals and will help differentiate legal rentals from illegal ones that take needed long-term housing stock from our traditional residential neighborhoods,” planning staff notes.

Changes to the fines regarding short- and medium-term rentals are also proposed. Those found in violation would face a fine of $300 for the first violation and then $500 for each subsequent violation, per day that it occurs.

The amendments regarding short-term rentals are set to go before City Council on Dec. 6.

For more information and instructions on how to access the meeting remotely visit https://www.cityofwhitefish.org/AgendaCenter/Whitefish-Planning-Board-16