Council Postpones Critical Areas Vote

By Beacon Staff

Following a public workshop where new information came to light and previously established concerns persisted, the Whitefish City Council decided to hold off on voting on a proposed critical areas ordinance at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

The councilors unanimously agreed to temporarily halt discussion on the ordinance, citing the need for more time to examine unresolved issues. They will resume talks next Monday, Jan. 28, at 6:00 p.m. as a continuation of Tuesday’s meeting, and therefore will not be holding a public workshop.

The rest of the meeting’s agenda was discussed and voted on as planned, including the approvals of an ordinance that sets the deputy mayor’s term at two years and an ordinance identifying the new parks maintenance building as an urban renewal project.

The critical areas ordinance essentially outlines regulations to protect sensitive storm water drainage areas – or critical areas. Throughout its drafting process, the ordinance has been heavily scrutinized and often criticized particularly for its regulations on the development of sloped areas. An assortment of other concerns, however, were also discussed at the public hearing portion of Tuesday’s meeting, including discrepancies in the specifics of buffer and setback regulations, the effect the ordinance will have on existing lots as opposed to new developments, and the clarity of wording in various sections of the ordinance.

A draft of the ordinance is available at www.planitwhitefish.com.

The council also discussed ways to address the representation controversy concerning residents who live in the two-mile planning area surrounding Whitefish referred to as the “planning doughnut.” Several of these residents voiced their concerns about potentially being governed by the critical areas ordinance when they are not technically residents of Whitefish.

City Attorney John Phelps proposed ways to address the representation issue. After doing research on various options, Phelps said he believes changing state law – as Rep. Mike Jopek, D-Whitefish, has offered – would be very difficult. He also brought up the possibility of annexing select areas in the doughnut, though he did not favor it.

As it stands now, Phelps suggested the best plan to pursue is to change the city charter and allow for a way for doughnut residents to vote on issues affecting them. It is possible, he said, though difficult. He recommended speaking to the state Attorney General’s office before taking any action.