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City Council: Lake Park duplex project approved

by JULIE ENGLER
Whitefish Pilot | April 10, 2024 12:00 AM

Whitefish City Council on April 1 approved a preliminary plat for a duplex project on Lake Park Lane.

With Deputy Mayor Frank Sweeney presiding in the absence of Mayor John Muhlfeld, the council voted unanimously to approve a request from Lake Park Lane, LLC, for the nine-lot subdivision. The parcel, zoned WR-2 or two-family residential, is just over 2 acres and is located at 270 Lake Park Lane. 

The subdivision will be accessed off a private road, built to city standards, that will connect Salmon Run and Lake Park Lane. Ten feet of the northern edge of the property and 20 feet along the east side near Salmon Run will be dedicated for a public right of way, and a sidewalk will be installed on Lake Park Lane.

The property is not heavily wooded but the applicant is required to plant trees on the west side of Salmon Run. One condition of approval states that healthy trees should be protected as much as possible. 

Since the amount of dedicated parkland is less than the minimum required, or 10,000 square feet, the applicant must pay a fee in lieu of parkland. 

Four residents of the neighborhood spoke during the public comment period and expressed concerns and asked questions, mainly about traffic and open space.

Whitefish resident Neil Lovering came with a list of questions, among them, the lot sizes and the potential uses of the lots.

“Is it conceivable that they could have a minimum of only one dwelling unit or a maximum of two dwelling units on each of those 60- by 120-foot lots?” Lovering asked.

Sweeney asked Whitefish City Planner Nelson Loring to clarify what kind of structures are permitted in the WR-2 zone.

“They have the option of doing a single-family home or a duplex on each lot,” Loring confirmed.

Erin Meeks, a resident of Lake Park Lane, said she and her neighbors frequently have trouble getting in and out of their streets, especially in the winter. She requested that emergency services reevaluate the streets. 

“The road is very narrow,” she said. “It is an emergency hazard to put that many more duplexes in that small area.”

In his staff report, Loring said that emergency services had approved the plan.

“The fire marshal has reviewed the project for conformance with the city’s adopted fire codes,”  Loring said. “They make sure they’re meeting the fire code as far as the hydrants … and city street standards that are meant to be able to provide that sort of service.”

The Park Lake Lane project was eligible for an expedited review because it is within city limits, is included in the current growth policy, conforms to all city zoning and design standards and includes plans for the extension of public services. 

MARIAH JOOS, owner of Nelson’s Hardware and board chair of the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau, known as Explore Whitefish, briefly presented a tourism update and requested approval of the organization’s marketing plan and budget for fiscal year 2025. The council gave approval unanimously.

Joos explained that the approval is necessary, according to state law, for Explore Whitefish to receive the annual funds from the lodging facility use tax, also known as the bed tax.

Further, she shared some trends in visitation. 

“In 2023, Whitefish saw an increase year over year in our day and drive-through visitors,” she said. “While day visitation was up, our Whitefish visitors who stayed at least one night have declined significantly since the height of Covid.

“We also experienced 12% less overnight guests in 2023 compared to 2022,” she added.

Regarding traditional lodging statistics, she said year to date, Whitefish had average just under 55% occupancy. The national average is slightly over 63%.

“We are working hard to correct misperceptions within our community that our hotels are full,” Joos said. “We are truly experiencing significant shoulder seasons.”

She said Explore Whitefish works to balance the economic benefits of tourism while managing the disruptions associated with having a healthy visitor economy.

MANAGING CONSULTANT for Communications and Management Services, Jim Kerins, attended the meeting virtually to present the final wage market study for the council’s approval.

There was no new information to report since the work session two weeks ago, but since the report focused solely on wages and did not include benefits, Councilor Steve Qunell asked if the city’s health care compensation was on par with that of other communities.

Kerins and Whitefish Human Resources Director Sherri Baccaro said they could compile that information.

It is possible the city will hire the consultant to assist with the next steps.

A BID FOR the Karrow Avenue Reconstruction Project from Watson Excavating in the amount of $2,396,350 was approved by the council.

Whitefish Public Works Director Craig Workman reported that the city received three bids. All three came in lower than the engineer’s estimate and Watson’s was the lowest bid. 

There was just a 4% discrepancy between the high and low bids, a statistic that gave staff confidence that the bids were competitive. Additionally, Workman wrote, “Watson Excavating is an extremely reputable firm who has successfully completed many projects for the city.”

The project will reconstruct Karrow Avenue from West Second Street to West Seventh Street.

THE ALPENGLOW Phase II project, located at 530 Edgewood Place, will provide 18 rental units of affordable housing, serving household incomes ranging from 60%-120% area median income and is scheduled to break ground in 2025 if fundraising efforts are successful.

In early March of this year at a City Council work session, Housing Whitefish requested financial

support from the City of Whitefish for the project to ensure it can be constructed at the targeted AMI levels. 

At a work session in early March, staff was directed to draft an agreement wherein the city would contribute $1 million over the next three fiscal years, including $200,000 from the Affordable Housing Fund in fiscal year 2024, $300,000 from the resort tax in fiscal year 2025, and $500,000 from the resort tax in fiscal year 2026.

The development agreement was approved unanimously.

THE COUNCIL approved a request to release the deed restriction on another Trailview home so it can be added to the Northwest Montana Community Land Trust inventory. The trust then places the standard ground lease on that property in place of the deed restriction.

A few weeks ago, the council agreed to release the deed restriction on three other Trailview homes.