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Plans for 77-lot subdivision draw concerns from development board

by MATT BALDWIN
Daily Inter Lake | April 3, 2024 1:00 AM

The Whitefish Community Development Board shot down plans for a 77-lot subdivision on Flathead Avenue over concerns that it doesn’t provide affordable housing units and that it fails to establish a full east-west connection between Karrow and Baker avenues.

The board on March 21 voted 4-2 to recommend that the City Council deny a growth policy change to accommodate the Whitetail Ridge project. City Council will review the proposal at its April 15 meeting. 

Developer Doug Siderius with Siderius Construction is proposing to build the project on 34 acres south and west of the O’Brien Bluffs neighborhood and north of the city’s Public Works shop property.

The council at its April 1 meeting voted to annex the property, so the development would be connected to city services and built to city standards.

Plans indicate 18 townhome sites, with the remaining 59 lots designated for single-family homes. Approximately 10.5 acres would be set aside as a park area.

Access to the development would be from two locations on Flathead Avenue, along with a spur road from Sawtooth Drive in the O’Brien Bluffs subdivision. West 18th Street from Baker Avenue would be extended west to the neighborhood, creating another access point.

The developers are requesting an amendment to the growth policy that modifies the land-use designation from rural residential and heavy industrial to urban residential. They are also seeking a zoning map amendment to facilitate the proposal, and subsequently preliminary plat approval.

At the March 21 meeting, Siderius said he and his partners worked extensively with city staff in creating the development plans and gleaning ideas that would benefit the community.

“We put a lot of thought into this,” Siderius said, noting his family’s ties to the Flathead Valley.

He said they chose the proposed density so it would be compatible with the adjacent neighborhood.

“I realize the density could certainly be a lot more,” he said. “We chose not to and we’ve tried to be good neighbors.”

Residents in the O’Brien Bluffs neighborhood expressed general concerns about the access point from Sawtooth Drive, saying the deep swales along the roadway notoriously eat up vehicles in icy conditions.

Sawtooth resident Brett Bollweg said he bought a tow strap due to the number of times he’s had to help pull vehicles from the ditch.

“It’s a big concern,” he said of the proposed access road from Sawtooth. “We know how people drive through there.”

Siderius indicated he would be amenable to talking about designating that access road for emergency use only, however city planner Wendy Compton-Ring noted that city policy frowns upon gated roads and dead end cul-de-sacs. She said the connection off Sawtooth has been envisioned since 2007 when the O’Brien Bluffs subdivision was created.

Other residents expressed worries about a loss of forested areas during development and impacts to wildlife, along with the project’s density.

Lund Avenue resident Brian Szady likened the development to something one might find in North Kalispell or east Bozeman.

“It changes the whole vibe,” he said.

Board member Whitney Beckham made the motion to deny the growth policy change, adding that she didn’t feel that request should be lumped with a zone change request and preliminary plat approval.

“I don’t agree that this should all happen in a chain reaction,” she said.

Ultimately, the board denied the recommendation for approval based on a finding in the staff report that said the growth policy change was warranted because the project would add housing units.

“Affordable housing has long been an issue in Whitefish,” the staff report stated. “While this project is not providing an affordable housing component, it is adding supply to the overall housing stock which may have an effect of reducing some housing costs.”

Beckham took issue with that phrasing, saying that the growth policy change isn’t justifiable without designated affordable units.

She also said the plans fail to provide a true community benefit without a full east-west connection between Karrow and Baker avenues.

“This is providing a link, but we’re still pretty far away from an east-west [connection],” she said.

Board member Scott Wurster also voted to deny recommendation of the growth policy change, saying that the document’s guidelines shouldn’t be changed on a whim.

“The growth policy has to mean something,” he said. “If those [land-use boundaries] can be converted with a flip of a switch .. it raises the question, what is a growth policy and what good is it?”

The board also voted 4-2 to deny recommendation of the zone change, but unanimously voted to deny recommendation of the preliminary plat.