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Large housing project planned for Big Mountain Road

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | September 22, 2021 12:00 PM

A team of developers has submitted plans to the City of Whitefish to build 318 housing units and a small "island" of commercial space at the base of Big Mountain.

The proposed "Mountain Gateway" development would feature 270 apartments, 24 townhouses and 24 condominiums on about 30.5 acres straddling Big Mountain Road at East Lakeshore Drive. The city would have to annex and rezone the property, and the developers have proposed replacing the tight intersection with a roundabout to keep traffic moving freely during ski season.

The Whitefish Planning Board is scheduled to consider the proposal on Oct. 21. The developers hosted two public meetings about the project in August, with neighbors voicing concerns about traffic and housing density. Will MacDonald, one of the developers behind the project, said his team intends to host a third meeting sometime during the week of Oct. 11.

"We want to hear from the community," MacDonald said.

The land is owned by Joe Gregory, who also owns the Krummholz Lodge, a gated vacation compound on Whitefish Lake. Gregory sought to build a resort and residential development on the Big Mountain Road property in 2017, but those plans never moved forward.

Under the current proposal, MacDonald said the commercial space would include a small market similar to Markus Foods and potentially a day-care center for working families. About 1.5 acres adjoining the development would be donated to the city for a much-needed new fire station. And the developers hope to add a stop for Whitefish's SNOW bus to further alleviate traffic concerns.

Extensive plans submitted to the Whitefish Planning Board also call for a pedestrian path, electric vehicle charging stations and the retention of numerous trees around the perimeter of the property to maintain a natural aesthetic.

The apartments would come in one-, two- and three-bedroom floorplans. As proposed, 32 of the apartments would have deed restrictions to ensure long-term affordability for workers in the area, with lease rates managed by the Whitefish Housing Authority.

But MacDonald argued the entire development would help address the city's housing crisis. He noted none of the new units would be used as short-term rentals, and said condos can be an economic stepping stone for first-time homebuyers.

"The whole nexus of this development was to try and take a chunk out of the housing problem," he said. "We want to create a live-work-play sort of environment."

Other developers involved in the project include James Barnett, Craig Denman of Denman Construction, and Sean Averill of Averill Hospitality, which owns The Lodge at Whitefish Lake and the downtown Firebrand Hotel. Contractors on the project include local firms Cushing Terrell and WGM Group.

MacDonald said the project also has backing from Matthew Fritter of American Residential Investment Management.

There has been some early opposition to the project, including an online petition being circulated among neighbors.

MacDonald said his team won't jam-pack the property to achieve the highest possible density. With a planned-unit development overlay, the land theoretically could have up to 561 housing units, he said.

The developers' application also addresses concerns about potential impacts to nearby Whitefish Lake, noting a variety of ways the project can reduce stormwater runoff.

The Whitefish Planning Board will meet at 6 p.m. on Oct. 21 at City Hall, 418 E. Second St. The application, renderings and other documents related to the Mountain Gateway project can be found at cityofwhitefish.org/428/current-land-use-actions.

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This rendering shows a large housing development proposed at the intersection of Big Mountain Road and East Lakeshore Drive. The proposal is scheduled for consideration by the Whitefish Planning Board.

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This rendering shows a large housing development proposed at the intersection of Big Mountain Road and East Lakeshore Drive. The proposal is scheduled for consideration by the Whitefish Planning Board.

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This rendering shows a large housing development proposed at the intersection of Big Mountain Road and East Lakeshore Drive. The proposal is scheduled for consideration by the Whitefish Planning Board.