While it’s unlikely to be as amusing as an episode of Gilligan’s Island, Kalispell city leaders plan to pile into a rented motor coach Sept. 10 to once again take up an annual tradition: a guided tour of the city they are creating. A deserted tropical island is not among the scheduled stops.
Once a regular trip for city leaders, the practice of taking a tour of Kalispell and its growth has fallen by the wayside in recent years. Councilman Hank Olson – unaware that such tours were once a regular occurrence – began pushing for the trip a few months ago as a way for Kalispell’s leaders to examine together the development projects they’ve approved and the sites of soon-to-be-built neighborhoods and shopping centers.
“I feel that we’re building a large city here and we need to make sure we’re doing it right,” Olson said. “It just makes sense that we go look at what we’ve done because, boy, we’ve done a lot of it.”
Council members say they typically visit the sites of proposed subdivisions and developments during the course of decision-making on projects. Many also say they visit sites after they’ve been approved to ensure construction is proceeding appropriately. But, Olson said, in the veritable deluge of projects that come before the planning board and council, sometimes the development plan is shown via PowerPoint presentation, considered over the course of weeks or months, voted on, and council deals with the next project right away – without enough time to reflect on its decisions.
“We get the picture, and then, literally, you never see it again,” he added. The tour will provide the city staff a chance to clamber out of the bus and inspect the expanding outskirts of the city together, making sure everyone is on the same page, and everyone agrees with the look and placement of a fence or streetlight or storm drain.
“I think when you do it together as a unified body, you have a different look at things,” Mayor Pam Kennedy said.
City Manager Jim Patrick is assembling the tour itinerary and said he expects it to visit: residential developments like Empire Estates, Mountain Vista Estates, West View Estates; commercial developments like Old School Station, Hutton Ranch Plaza and improvements to the city airport and wastewater treatment plant; and the sites of upcoming projects like the Starling subdivision, Silver Brook Estates, Willow Creek and the Spring Prairie Shopping Center. Developers will not be present for the visits.
As architectural trends and affordable housing theories have evolved, so too have the subdivisions around Kalispell. Serving on city council in the 1990s, Kennedy remembers touring affordable housing projects like Courtyard Apartments on Airport Road. To keep prices down, those residences lacked streetlights, sidewalks, and used swales for storm water instead of curbs and gutters. A few years later, Kennedy said, the city has added those features where it could anyway, and realized over time that such additions add little to housing prices.
But not all council members are on board with the group tour.
“I can think of other things I’d rather do than take a bus ride around town to look at places I’ve already seen,” said Council member Bob Hafferman. “I don’t know what it’s going to encompass other than maybe a propaganda tour.”
Hafferman said he personally visits the sites of every proposed development, walking the property and speaking with neighbors to get their views. Opinions of architectural styles, he said, are largely in the eye of the beholder. “If the other members have not visited the sites, well that’s fine,” Hafferman added. “Being with the council, I doubt if I’ll learn anything.” But Hafferman does plan to participate in the discussion after the tour of what the group observed.
Other than Hafferman’s dissension, there is unlikely to be much in the way of high jinks by the normally staid group of city employees and elected officials as they embark on their road trip. Asked if there would be arguments over what music to listen to, or whether only the cool people would be allowed to sit in the back of the bus, Kennedy laughed and replied, “I don’t think it’ll be an issue at all.”
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