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Vote on Whitefish airport hangar proposal grounded, for now

by JULIE ENGLER
Whitefish Pilot | May 29, 2024 12:00 AM

After over an hour of discussion, the Whitefish Community Development Board postponed its vote on a conditional use permit for a hangar on public land near the city airport. 

The board will revisit the item at its June 20 meeting.

William McKinney and the Montana Department of Transportation are requesting a conditional use permit to expand the use of the Whitefish airport by building an airplane hangar on 1761 E. Second St.

The proposed hangar is 5,400 square feet, 23 feet high and would be built by McKinney on state-owned land. The state would own the building and McKinney would lease it. The property is zoned WA, or agricultural district, which allows for airports as a conditional use.

“(The part of the airport) that is in city limits, it is owned by the state and is subject to our zoning because it is in city limits,” Whitefish City Planner Nelson Loring said. “The part of the airport not in city limits, that goes to the county, as far as zoning.” 

The land is owned by the Montana Department of Transportation and leased by the applicant.

“This is on state property and … the city has an easement to use it to access the dog park,” Loring said. “Once you’re on the dog park, that is city property … that’s where you can’t park overnight.”

Plans include hooking up to electric and gas but not water or sewer, as the plan does not include a bathroom. It does, however, include a 400 square-foot shed to house e-bikes to be used only by airport patrons.

“So if you fly your plane in there … there’s just a fleet of e-bikes there you could use, but no bathroom,” board Chair Steve Qunell clarified.

The applicant said the e-bikes would be rented, not given freely.

The board asked if McKinney would be making money from the building and asked to know the terms of the lease.

“When I think of state land and leases … there will be a term of years … and terms in the lease about what the renter can do to improve the property,” board member Scott Wurster said. “I’m just not quite understanding anything about that situation that you have with the state.” 

There would be two spaces available in the hangar that could be rented monthly. 

Phyllis Quatman lives on Armory Road and objected to the hangar for many reasons. She said the neighbors didn’t know about the proposal because, while a notice was mailed to homeowners within 300 feet of the parcel, the nearest home is 750 feet away.

“We’re talking about putting a building on public land. So this is our tax dollars that are paying for … the airport and that land,” Quatman said. “I think this board needs to look at that lease.”

She said the building is for McKinney’s own use, as he will use two of the four hangar spots and rent out the other two. 

“It’s not like people can just fly in here and use the hangar,” Quatman added. “They can’t do anything more than they can do right now.” 

Further, Quatman raised concerns about maintenance, liability and precedent. 

“If you approve this … there will be more applicants, you can bet on it,” she said. “Because everybody wants to have their own private hangar at an airport.”

Six other members of the public spoke in opposition to the proposal and several asked the board to table the item. They cited blocked views, environmental impacts, noise and safety.

The state is a co-applicant with McKinney, but no one from the state was at the meeting.

Qunell said he would like to hear directly from Whitefish City Attorney Angela Jacobs on this issue. Board member Whitney Beckham concurred and would also like to supply a list of things the board would like to see by the next meeting, since so many concerns had been discussed. 

In part, the board would like to see the lease, to hear Jacobs’ take on the matter, to know about the workings of the airport currently, and to have a representative of the state present.

The board voted unanimously to postpone the item until its June 20 meeting.