City Council Considers Wolford Development

By Beacon Staff

At a Kalispell City Council work session Monday night, developers of the proposed Glacier Town Center sought to convince city officials that two new stoplights on U.S. 93 north of West Reserve Street are the best way to resolve traffic issues related to the project.

The 485-acre commercial and residential development would go up between U.S. 93 North and Whitefish Stage Road, bordered by West Reserve Drive to the south. Its 191-acre first phase consists of a “lifestyle center,” essentially an outdoor shopping mall located off of U.S. 93.

The proposal moved past a Kalispell planning board deadlocked over the developer’s wish, and the state Department of Transportation’s recommendation, that western entrances to Glacier Town Center consist of: a stoplight at Rose Crossing; an intersection at the main entrance that would not permit left turns onto U.S. 93; and another stoplight north of West Reserve Street.

Those plans conflict with the city’s draft transportation plan, which calls for U.S. 93 to remain a fast-moving, rural-style arterial road that allows for quick travel between Whitefish and Kalispell. The planning board and city has objected to those added stoplights because the proposed Kalispell bypass, set for construction in upcoming years, would reconnect with U.S. 93 at West Reserve, and could end up depositing fast-moving traffic right into those new lights.

At the work session, where no formal votes were allowed, Chad Wolford, son of Tennessee developer James “Bucky” Wolford presented the council with his plans for development, and let his traffic engineer make the case for why stoplights are the right option.

Traffic Engineer Kathleen Krager said under the two-stoplight plan, traffic slowdowns at Rose Crossing would be minimal, with 28.2-second delays as the development was fully built out. Even if an overpass were built there, she said, it would increase delays, because vehicles exiting an overpass move too quickly to have a stoplight or some other type of intersection nearby. Funneling all of Glacier Town Center’s traffic to one entrance, even if it did not have a stoplight, could cause delays of 15 to 20 minutes.

It is likely the speed limit on U.S. 93 will be 45 miles per hour until north of Rose Crossing, Krager added. Whitefish Stage Road, which makes up part of the eastern boundary of the development would also be widened to accommodate turn lanes and left turn lanes at intersections.

Some council members seemed uneasy about adding stoplights on U.S. 93, and discussed whether hiring an outside consultant might be worthwhile in order to get a second opinion.

Mayor Pam Kennedy asked Wolford if he had any plans to provide affordable housing in the later residential phases of the development. Wolford said that he would be partnering with local developers and that ultimately the housing market would determine the price of the homes. Wolford is also pushing for larger signs than what the city recommends.

During the public comment period, two residents spoke in opposition to the development. Mayre Flowers, executive director of Citizens for a Better Flathead, urged the council to adopt Kalispell’s draft transportation plan before considering Wolford’s application, so that the city can collect transportation impact fees. Council should also identify a plan to secure funding for an overpass at Rose Crossing, she added, to keep the road from Whitefish to Kalispell stoplight free. After the meeting, Flowers said she has been unable to get the state department of transportation to provide any reasoning for its recommendation for the two added stoplights on U.S. 93.

The city will hold a public hearing Jan. 7 to allow for more input on the project.

During the formal meeting earlier in the evening, the council approved, 7-2, zoning and plans for the Willow Creek subdivision, a 165-acre residential development located on the north side of Foys Lake Road. Previous plans for the development were repeatedly objected to by the council for being too dense. The development passed its first vote Dec. 3 on a 7-2 vote.

At the meeting’s beginning, Kalispell Fire Chief Randy Brodehl honored Chris Fraser with the Community Lifesaving Award. On Nov. 25, Fraser, a real estate agent, performed rescue breathing and CPR when Michael Golembeski suffered a heart attack in his office. Fraser was able to keep Golembeski alive until firefighters arrived on the scene. The firefighting crew that also saved Golembeski’s life was honored as well.

“It was through Chris’s breath of life and his hands on my chest that gave me my life back,” Golembeski said. “I rejoice in my new life, minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, and day-by-day.”