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Election 2021: Meet council candidate Kristen Riter

by HEIDI DESCH
Whitefish Pilot | October 20, 2021 1:00 AM

Kristen Riter hopes to bring a fresh perspective to the Whitefish City Council.

She says she decided to run for the position after hearing people voice concerns about the direction of the city.

“The more I heard people’s concerns about how they were being treated I decided to run,” she said. “I can lead and help the community get resolution. I can bring fresh eyes and fresh ears.”

Riter has lived in Whitefish for about a year after moving here from California. Riter grew up in a ranching family and learned the value of giving back to the community from her parents. She graduated from the University of California Davis.

Riter retired from a career as a business compliance auditor and consultant for blood collection businesses in the United States and Europe. She is married, has four children and two grandchildren.

She says growth, housing and traffic are the biggest issues facing Whitefish.

In terms of housing, Riter points to a city study that said Whitefish needs to add housing to attract workers for economic health. She says the city should be assisting businesses with incentives that would increase wages for workers thus attracting more employees.

Riter says the city’s inclusionary zoning program, which ended after the Legislature passed a bill making the zoning illegal statewide, unfairly targeted the “invisible middle.” She says those looking to purchase homes in the middle-income range such as teachers and firefighters would have been unfairly burdened by the program as it looked to create affordable workforce housing.

To address a lack of affordable workforce housing, she says one of the quickest ways to increase housing in Whitefish would be to increase the number of accessory dwelling units in the city.

“There are a lot of restrictions on ADUs,” she said. “The ideal immediate solution to providing housing is to increase the number. That’s an option we have to increase housing that lets people keep the character of homes and it doesn’t tax the infrastructure we already have.”

She says it’s also necessary to look at increasing the density of housing in certain zones so that housing can be constructed in an affordable manner thus creating more affordable housing.

Whitefish will keep growing, she noted, but it will be important to manage the impacts to infrastructure and emergency services. She says it will be important to protect the character of Whitefish.

“Part of the community wants to be Aspen and see growth in the community and businesses,” she said. “And the other part wants to keep the character. It’s figuring out how we come together as a city to marry both of those.”

City Council recently moved the city’s urban growth boundary south to Blanchard Lake Road, meaning that at some point properties to the south of the current city limits could be annexed into the city. Council said it wanted to provide control over how the area develops rather than relying on the county.

Riter says the city needs to ensure that it has the critical infrastructure in place to properly serve areas before annexation.

Voters are being asked to renew Whitefish’s resort tax. Riter says she supports the continuation of the tax, but she says it needs to be more clear how the money is being used.

“When I first got here I thought the streets were a mess and the sidewalks were a mess,” she said. “I think people are conflicted about the tax because they don’t know what it’s being used for.”

“If you’re going to ask people for money you have a responsibility to honor that,” she added. “We need to do a better job of showing that we’re using it.”

Riter says the city should be collecting more money for impact fees as those fees are necessary in terms of fixing infrastructure issues in the city. She says the city does not collect impact fees for parks and roads and it should because those are two areas that are impacted by new development.

“We’re way behind on that when it comes to impact fees and new construction,” she said. “That’s how we get money to pay for the infrastructure we need.”

She points to large housing projects being proposed in the community as an example of why the city needs to charge impact fees that cover the cost of infrastructure and allow the city to respond to growth.

Riter says many are concerned about the direction of the city, the pace occurring at resolving critical issues while feeling like they’re not being heard by City Council. She’d like to apply her experience while listening to people to resolve issues.

“This is a fabulous town and I’m honored to be here,” she said.

There are nine candidates on the ballot running for three seats on Whitefish City Council. They include Phil Boland, Giuseppe Caltabiano, Ben Davis, Vincent Dell’Omo, Andy Feury, Judy Hessellund, Terry Petersen and Kristen Riter. Mark Owens’ name also will appear on the ballot, but he has withdrawn from the race. Mail-in ballots are due to City Hall or the Flathead County Election office by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 2. For ballot information, call 406-785-5536.