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City Council approves mixed-use development on Edgewood Drive

by JULIE ENGLER
Whitefish Pilot | September 14, 2022 1:00 AM

Yards from the dog park and just across the railroad tracks are 92 acres that will soon change dramatically. Last week a developer got the go-ahead to proceed with a large project called Edgewood 90 along East Edgewood Drive when the Whitefish City Council approved all three of his requests including zoning changes.

Edgewood 90 is a development project led by Sean Averill and two partners, all of whom own land near the project.

The 92-acre property lies between East Edgewood Drive and the railroad tracks and is bisected by East Second Street. The triangular parcel to the west is zoned industrial except for about 4 acres that were recently rezoned for residential. In that 4-acre area, Averill and his partners plan to build 30 residential units in three buildings with a 100-foot tree buffer to the north along Edgewood Drive; six of the units will be deed restricted for affordability.

Around the apartment buildings will be four small industrial lots and a large lot immediately to the west is designated open space. Between the open space and East Second Street, the thick grove of trees will remain. Some thinning may take place in order to assure the health of the stand. The developers mentioned it could be turned into a park or conservation easement.

The 66 acres to the east of East Second Street will become a subdivision with eight homes, on lots ranging from about 5 to 15 acres.

Since the developers own property nearby, Averill said they were concerned about what might happen with the land, were they not to buy it and develop it themselves.

“We sat down with basically every neighbor out there and helped design this field,” Averill said of the eastern part of the property with the ranchettes, a term describing a small-scale ranch on limited acreage.

According to the report, the west side will have a trail through the woods down to the Hugh Rogers WAG Park and across the whole north side there is an easement for a potential bike trail that would run alongside Edgewood Drive.

The wooded area to the immediate west of East Second Street that was a tree farm years ago, is called lot six on the plans and is the only part of the development that will be addressed in the future.

“We’re going to donate that as a conservation easement or a park. That will be a future deal,” Averill said. “That’s our plan to make that a community benefit.”

While he claimed to have spoken to all the neighbors, some people came forward to voice concerns and said that Averill had not spoken to them about the plans.

Steve Knox, resident of East Edgewood Drive said Averill had not discussed the plan with him and his biggest concern is further subdivision of the lots. He would like the council to “really cement that those 5 to 15 acre lots stay that way.”

Son Vu, a neighbor on East Second Street, said he was not contacted, either. He questioned the claimed benefits to the community.

“I ask the council to reconsider all those supposed benefits — is it really, truly to the community or is it going to be just amenities for that area,” he said.

Of the four individual items regarding Edgewood 90 that the council addressed in the meeting last week, the first was a request from the city to rezone about 66 acres of the land from county’s zones of agricultural and suburban agricultural to the city’s country residential and agricultural districts. The land was annexed into the city in June.

Council proceeded to approve a map amendment to the Whitefish Growth Policy that would change the future land use designation to facilitate a rezone to residential for about 3 acres of the parcel on the west side. The same patch of land was then rezoned to allow the multi-family residences to be built. Finally, the preliminary plat and planned unit development was approved for the entire property, allowing for development of the 14-lot, mixed-use subdivision.

While there is already variance for the subdivision to the east to be free of street lights, some council members were absorbed by the thought of eliminating street lights on that section of East Second Street.

Mayor John Muhlfeld along with Councilors Frank Sweeney and Steve Qunell expressed their desire to refrain from using street lights on this section of East Second Street despite staff’s recommendation.

“It’s a city street, the property has been annexed into the city,” Whitefish Senior Planner Compton-Ring said. “The intention… is to match the street that’s in front of the dog park, with curb, gutter, street trees, and street lights.”

Currently, there are street lights on East Second Street on the south side of the tracks up to the dog park.

“East Second Street is a collector roadway so we are making a recommendation to staff that they improve East Second Street on the north side of the tracks to the city’s collector roadway standards which do include street lights,” said Whitefish Public Works Director Craig Workman. We are adding a tremendous amount of traffic to that roadway as well as a shared use path… it definitely is staff’s recommendation that this roadway be improved to collector roadway standards.”

Councilor Rebecca Norton agreed with staff’s recommendation.

“I would really like to see street lights there... these are such large parcels… they’ll have dark skies,” she said. “A lot of people will be using this (roadway)... we should follow the staff’s guidance on this for safety reasons.”

An amendment was proposed to have the developer install the conduit, bases for street lights along with cash in lieu for the poles, should the council decide to approve the installation of street lights in the future. That amendment passed 4-1 with Norton voting in opposition.

Councilor Ben Davis shared his belief that requiring the developer to build a connecting path from the north side of the tracks to the south would be more expedient than having the city building the connection, though City Manager Dana Smith assured the council that the city is well-versed in building sidewalks.

After adding that alteration, as well as an amendment to add an easement on the north side of the property along East Edgewood Drive, the council approved the original motion. All four requests from Edgewood 90 passed unanimously.

photo

A diagram of the Edgewood 90 development. (Photo provided)

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