WHITEFISH – As the snows fell heavy outside, Whitefish city councilors stayed cozy inside City Hall until past midnight on Monday, picking through a busy agenda that included the final approval of the critical areas ordinance.
Toward the end of the meeting, which lasted more than five hours, the council voted 4-1 to adopt the second reading of the critical areas ordinance with four amendments. Councilors voted to table discussion on the night’s other major issue – a downtown improvements project – because not all councilors were present. City Manager Gary Marks also recommended delaying discussion because of time restraints. The council had already tabled the project once at its Feb. 4 meeting.
The council also tabled discussion on creating a business service zoning district.
Councilors were scheduled to vote on the conceptual design plans, which constitute the first step of several, for the downtown improvements project. Project plans include a tree-story parking garage on Second Street and Spokane Avenue that would add more than 200 parking spaces to downtown Whitefish and a streetscape redesign. The streetscape portion would narrow Central Avenue, widen sidewalks and create a more pedestrian-friendly ambience that includes improved landscaping and raised crosswalks, among other features.
Marks told the council that the downtown project is “among the most important decisions you’ll make during your council terms” and therefore decided it would be best to have all councilors present. Ryan Friel was gone and John Muhlfeld was participating via telephone, thus unable to see the PowerPoint presentation. Not to mention, the meeting was getting long, Marks pointed out.
“In the interest of brevity I would really encourage you to table this tonight,” Marks said.
Among the council’s other actions was a unanimous vote to annex a portion of Whitefish Lookout Road from the county. Ron Buentemeier, the former manager of Stolze Lumber Company, said Lookout Road is important for Stoltze’s logging operations and expressed concern over its future in the hands of the city. Responding to his worries, the council came up with a motion to give Stoltze and its successors unending access to the road. That motion passed 3-2.
One of the last issues on the agenda was, fittingly, discussion on the length of council meetings.
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