Monday, June 17, 2024

Council Briefs: Two properties annexed, new school resource officer, lakeshore permit approved

Whitefish Pilot | January 24, 2024 1:00 AM

Deputy Mayor Frank Sweeney presided over the Jan. 16 meeting of the Whitefish City Council in the absence of Mayor John Muhlfeld. The council voted unanimously in favor of each agenda item, including the annexation of two properties and the approval of the School Resource Officer program agreement.

A little over one acre at 26 East Lakeshore Court was annexed into the city. The property will be rezoned WSR, the comparable city zone to the county’s R1.

“Construction of the home began with the intent to connect to city sewer but was constructed in the county,” Whitefish City Planner Nelson Loring said. “It was not subject to building inspections and no building inspections will be conducted after the annexation.”  

Loring said the property does not have a septic system and that the applicant is annexing in order to use the city service of the sewer.

“So, is this an example of an attempt to skirt regulations, applying at this point?” Councilor Ben Davis noted.

Deputy Mayor Sweeney asked the owner’s representative, Tyler Schefter of Malmquist Construction, whether the owner considered the fact that, if they had annexed into the city prior to construction, their structure or building process would be in violation of several of the city’s required setbacks.

Schefter said that he wasn’t involved in the initial planning and that the question was one for the architect. 

“I do know the original reason it was built within the county was a timeline issue and timing of construction beginning prior to winter and avoiding a lot of the other processes involved,” Schefter said. “As you know it’s easier to build within the county and there was really no reason not to, at the time.” 

Although the council did vote unanimously in favor of the annexation, they had some misgivings.

“I find it a little odd that someone would start building a house on the lake, which we know is not going to be a cheap house, before they actually had a sewer hook up of any kind,” said Councilor Andy Feury, adding that, although Schefter said there was space for a leach field, he questioned whether that would be permit-able due to its proximity to the lake.

Feury added that getting any house on the lake onto city sewer is “vitally important” and he thanked the applicant for requesting annexation.

The annexation surcharge that was calculated for this project is $25,000, according to Whitefish Public Works Director Craig Workman.

A LESS contentious annexation request involved about one acre at 485 Armory Road. The applicant requested annexation to get onto the city sewer. In this instance, the annexation will not include water service.

“We are here because the county will not approve septic unless you deny us sewer,” said property owner Lawrence Evans. “That’s basically our intent here.” 

The council voted unanimously to annex the property.

THE COUNCIL heard a request from property owner Eric Sikola for a Lake and Lakeshore Protection Permit to repair the concrete foundation of a boathouse that has been in place since 1980. 

A photo showed the failing foundation has a large horizontal crack which was likely caused by a high water event, according to Whitefish City Planner Dave Taylor.

Loring said the boathouse is a nonconforming structure and its use can be continued and maintained provided there is no physical change other than is necessary. 

“The owner is making every attempt to have these repairs approved through all the proper channels,” said the applicant, Cate Walker of Northwest Design Studio.

Councilors Feury and Steve Qunell noted other photos show temporary work has been done to shore up the boathouse. Feury asked if the owner applied for a permit for the work which includes steel posts and a wood beam. Loring said a permit was not obtained. 

Qunell asked Walker the same question about obtaining a permit and she said she was not aware of one and that she was not contacted when that work was completed.

Feury moved to approve the request and the vote was unanimous for granting the permit.

“I think they are trying to do the right thing,” Feury said. “This photo (of the temporary construction) does disappoint me considerably, though, and I think we should look at possibly citing them for that … because it is work that was done without a permit and quite frankly, that offends me.”

Currently, nonconforming boathouses cannot be repaired if they are 90% or more destroyed, based on the market value of the structure. 

“When we did our lakeshore regulation update … we did lower that threshold to 50% from 90% to make it consistent with our floodplain regulations which consider a 50% improvement a substantial improvement, which is when it has to meet all the floodplain requirements,” said Taylor.

The new regulations go into effect on Feb. 1.

THE COUNCIL voted to approve awarding the engineering contract for the Safe Streets for All Safety Plan to Robert, Peccia and Associates (RPA). The comprehensive safety action plan will allow for future Safe Streets for All construction grants. 

According to the staff report, the Whitefish Public Works Department has worked with RPA several times in the past for road reconstruction projects.

“The current budget for this plan is $200,000. That will be funded by a $160,000 grant and $40,000 in city cash.” 

Although Qunell said $200,000 “seems like a lot of money for a plan,” the council voted unanimously to award the contract. 

THE COUNCIL also voted to sign the School Resource Officer Program Agreement, a plan that will add a second school resource officer to the program. Currently, one school resource officer services all three schools.

“We did apply for and receive a cops grant through the Department of Justice,” Whitefish Police Chief Bridger Kelch said. “That grant … is a three-year grant totaling $125,000.”

He added that the fourth-year requirement will be split 50/50 between the city and the school district, which is how the current school resource officer is funded.

The matter was approved unanimously.