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Whitefish OKs annexation of south gateway property

by JULIE ENGLER
Whitefish Pilot | November 15, 2023 12:00 AM

Developers proposing a mixed-use apartment project at Whitefish’s south gateway received approval from Whitefish City Council on Nov. 6 for the annexation of the vacant property, as well as a zone change.

The Alpine 93/40 project is located on about 10 acres east of U.S. 93 and south of Montana 40. The development agreement proposes 210 residential apartment units and no more than 15,000 square feet of commercial space. Ten percent of the units will be deed restricted.

The council had postponed the decision on the annexation and zone change at their Oct. 2 meeting, and discussed the project with the developer at a work session on Oct. 16. 

Concerns about the project included traffic flow and the effects on the adjacent neighborhood. Access to the property would be off of Montana 40 and Emerald Drive. 

City staff’s recommendation to approve annexation came with three conditions.

First, the developer will upgrade the portion of Emerald Drive within the annexation area to city standards. They will also be responsible for maintaining the shared path along U.S. 93, the sidewalk, the street trees and all internal landscaping. Finally, the developer will comply with the annexation and development agreement.

The development is required to provide 20% open space, however developers said they plan to provide closer to 40%. 

Project plans indicate the neighborhood will include a gym, playground and dog park. Renderings show a clock tower at the entrance, with courtyards dispersed throughout six buildings that would be two and three stories in height. Other amenities would include roof patios, community fire pits, a designated bus stop area, and covered parking.

The northernmost building will contain commercial space with residential units above. The development team told council they will restrict potential uses of the commercial space.

Lead developer Alberto Valner said in order to alleviate some of the concerns from residents of the Emerald Heights neighborhood a fence will be installed along the eastern boundary of the property. 

Additionally, Valner said the development team will include a recycling program and incorporate recommendations from a third-party traffic impact study.

He described the final agreement as a good example of private-public partnership. 

“Voluntarily, we have agreed to work with the city to create a program to offer an additional 10% of our units that come to market to local businesses in the city at a 5% discount for the market rate units,” Valner said. “We will work with the city to offer any of our market units to city qualified tenants whose market rate units can be subsidized with city funds such as those funds that may be obtained from the proposed reallocation of the resort tax for the community housing.”

No short-term rentals are permitted in the Alpine 93/40 project.

No variances were requested, but the developer will receive the 40-foot height allowance permitted by the Legacy Homes Program in exchange for the 10% deed restricted units.

“It is about providing housing units that will allow our low and moderate income community to remain here in Whitefish,” Valner said. “Housing that is essential to keep the fabric of our city vibrant and liveable.”

Jerry LaPrath from the Emerald Heights neighborhood and Mayre Flowers with Citizens for a Better Flathead suggested the decision be postponed, in part, to have more time to consider the traffic impact study.

Arthur Mayo, who lives in Whitefish’s Trailview neighborhood and is retired from the Army, addressed the negative connotation some residents had expressed about people who live in deed-restricted housing. 

“There seems to be this sort of stigma that I’ve heard … so I just wanted to let people know that my neighbors in Trailview include a teacher, two nurses, a Whitefish policeman, a Flathead sheriff, two restaurant managers, a retired Marine, a welder, and two Air Force guys — so those are the element that you’re talking about when you’re talking about this kind of housing … it’s people that actually work for a living,” Mayo said. “It’s not guys sitting around smoking weed.”

Four additional citizens voiced support for the project.

Whitefish City Attorney Angela Jacobs said she’d spoken to Valner and to Sean Frampton, the owner’s attorney, about assuring the annexation and developer agreement are signed and recorded in a way that suits all parties. 

The council made and passed an amendment that addressed those concerns and proceeded to vote unanimously in favor of the annexation and zone change for the property.

A project timeline forecasts phase one construction could begin as early as next summer, with the first units being complete by the end of 2025 or early 2026.