Despite a strong showing of opponents, a large streetscape project in downtown Whitefish cleared its last major hurdle Monday night when the city council gave the green light to begin advertising for construction bids.
At the latter end of a nearly four-and-a-half hour public meeting, the council voted 4-1 in favor of moving forward with the project, which will make much-needed upgrades to the city’s main water system, improve storm drainage and add an assortment of beautification features to create a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere along Central Avenue and First and Third streets.
Among those features are wider sidewalks, landscaping, raised crosswalks, decorative streetlights, bulb-outs at intersections and benches. Turner Askew cast the lone dissenting vote and Councilor Ryan Friel was not present. The proposal passed without any amendments.
During the public comment period of the meeting, which lasted more than an hour-and-a-half, a number of concerns were raised. Of the 25 or so people who spoke, at least 15 voiced concerns over the project. The most widely discussed issue was wider sidewalks, which necessitate narrowed driving lanes in the streets.
Under the plan, the 10-foot-wide sidewalks along Central Avenue would be increased to 11 feet 6 inches, decreasing the width of the driving lanes from 12 feet 6 inches to 11 feet. Sidewalks along First and Third Streets would all be 11 feet 6 and the driving lanes 10 feet 6. Questions were raised over how this would affect safety and traffic flow.
People also expressed concern over private business owners being responsible for the increased maintenance of the bulb-outs and wider sidewalks, particularly during winter; the removal of existing trees along the sidewalks; how the raised crosswalks will affect traffic and the effect construction will have on downtown business.
In response to another concern raised about the loss of parking, Ryan Mitchell, an engineer from Robert Peccia and Associates, said the spots lost are nearly the same as what would be lost for the city to get its parking up to safety code, something that needs to be done anyway.
City officials have tried to minimize the damage construction will have on businesses by scheduling construction for the shoulder seasons, phased out over three years with the final work being completed in the fall of 2011.
The phased-out plan calls for construction to begin shortly after Labor Day on Third Street between Baker and Spokane Avenues. Then in the spring of 2010, work will occur on Central Avenue between First and Second Streets. The third phase in the fall of 2010 will involve First Avenue, followed by more Central Avenue construction in the spring and fall of 2011. The project is expected to cost $4.3 million.
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