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Council says it plans to work on corridor plan before final adoption

by HEIDI DESCH
Whitefish Pilot | October 13, 2021 1:00 AM

The U.S. Highway 93 South Corridor Plan took another step last week toward becoming part of the City of Whitefish’s planning documents.

City Council approved a resolution of intent to adopt the plan, saying it will work on any needed adjustments to the plan in the coming weeks before a final vote on it scheduled for Dec. 6. Just over two weeks ago Council delayed a decision on the plan after several members of the public came before Council asking for changes to the plan regarding housing.

Councilor Steve Qunell told the roughly dozen people who showed up at last week’s Council meeting that the vote wasn’t the end of working on the plan.

“We need to move to the next stage and dig in to look at changes and amendments we might make to the plan,” he said.

The long-range plan looks at how the corridor will grow over the next 10 years in terms of land use, transportation, environment and open space. The plan includes goals, objectives and implementation items for the corridor.

The city since 2018 has been working on developing the corridor plan.

The plan divides the corridor into three distinct segments with a vision for each segment and setting goals to achieve that vision. For each segment, the plan looks at land use, transportation, and environment and open space as it applies to each.

Some comments have asked Council to include a greater emphasis in the plan on multi-family housing, while others say the focus should be on single-family neighborhoods.

Much of the comments focused on the section of the plan called Segment B, which extends from the Whitefish River to the city limits near Montana 40. The parcels in the section are relatively large with large commercial buildings, and some multi-family housing.

In the plan, the vision for this segment is to maintain its character as a commercial corridor with a diversity of businesses.

Toby Scott, who has been part of a group of concerned citizens attempting to create an affordable workforce housing project, told Council work is being done on a potential housing project on Pheasant Run in that segment of the plan.

“We urge you to amend Segment B for high-density residential housing,” he said. “We have to provide an avenue for high-density housing.”

However, several residents of the nearby Park Knoll neighborhood told Council they don’t agree with the location choice.

Charles Gale, who lives in that neighborhood, said while workforce housing is needed that wouldn’t be the best place for it.

“It seems there has to be a better location than right next to our neighborhood,” he said.

Councilor Ben Davis addressed those advocating for one property to be set aside for a housing project.

“We’re planning at the broad level and we can’t apply decisions to a single parcel,” he said. “But your point is taken that there are not enough locations for high-density housing.”

Planning Director Dave Taylor said the corridor plan is designed to create the future framework for the area and not make changes to the zoning.

If Council does decide it wants to see more workforce housing projects in the area suggested it could change the future land use map in the plan designating the area as general commercial, which he says fits the area better but would still allow for multi-family housing. He also suggested keeping the area adjacent to Park Knoll Lane designated as urban.

Segment A is the northern end between East Sixth Street and the Whitefish River. It’s a mix of residential and residential structures converted into commercial uses.

The vision set in the plan is that this segment serves as a gateway to downtown Whitefish and a transition from the highway commercial uses to the residential and light commercial in the downtown area.

Segment C extends from the city limits near Montana 40 south for about 1.5 miles to the southern edge of the city’s growth policy’s future land use map boundary. The segment has a combination of commercial uses lining the highway with residential uses behind, and agricultural uses farther south.

The goal for the segment would be to encourage Flathead County to enforce zoning and discourage land uses outside of the city limits that are inconsistent with the community’s vision for the area.

The city’s growth policy adopted in 2007 calls for the creation of corridor plans for all the major transportation corridors. Plans have been completed for Highway 93 West in 2015 and Wisconsin Avenue in 2018.

The draft plan is available on the city’s website at www.cityofwhitefish.org under the planning and building long range plans page.