Whitefish Approves Growth Policy

By Beacon Staff

Whitefish has a growth policy.

After two years of drafting and revising, the policy that will guide the city of Whitefish’s land use and planning for the next 20 years was approved by the Whitefish City Council late Monday night. The council passed the draft unanimously, though with seven amendments and a map change request.

Since a public hearing for the growth policy was held on Oct. 15, the council has worked with city planners, the planning board and consultant Bob Horne to make a variety of changes before arriving at Monday night’s draft. Even with all the changes, councilors had a number of last-minute suggestions at the council meeting – so many, in fact, it took several minutes of deliberation for the council to agree on how many amendments had actually been made.

When it came time to vote, Mayor Cris Coughlin smiled and said: “Woo hoo – this is very exciting.” Nearly everybody in the council chambers clapped when the policy was approved.

The policy, which serves as a framework for land-use and planning regulations, is broken down into seven general elements: natural resources, economic development, land use, community facilities, housing, transportation and implementation/intergovernmental. The document will replace the existing master plan, which was established in 1996.

The council also voted to grant a sign ordinance exception to North Valley Hospital. After more than an hour of discussion, the council voted 4-2 – with a variety of attached conditions – to allow the 27-foot tall sign, which is much higher than the 10-foot maximum permitted by law. The overriding argument for the allowance was the issue of safety. People, the approving councilors argued, need to be able to find the hospital when they need to, even if it means making an exception to the law.

“We need to step outside of the boundaries of our sign ordinance,” councilor Shirley Jacobson said, “on this one occasion.”