Whitefish Council Approves Resort-Style Development

By Beacon Staff

On Monday night, the Whitefish City Council unanimously approved a 51-home development at the site of the old North Valley Hospital.

The resort-style residential development, called the Banks at Whitefish, is the first full subdivision to fall under the jurisdiction of the critical areas ordinance. To comply with the law, the developer, The Aspen Group, submitted a critical-areas review and took measures to address each of four critical areas identified by a geotechnical study.

The Aspen Group, based out of Scottsdale, Ariz., purchased the 11.75-acre plot of land in June of 2007 for $6.4 million. The site is located between U.S. Highway 93 and the Whitefish River, south of 13th Street.

Design plans call for 42 townhouse lots and nine single-family residence lots. The single-family residences will be built along the Whitefish River, while three-story townhouses will be tucked further inland. The hospital itself will be torn down and the space used for future development. Also, 3.22 acres have been set aside for open space.

The council originally looked at the project at its April 20 meeting, a month after the planning board narrowly recommended it with a 4-3 vote. At the planning board meeting, the board granted six deviations for the planned-unit development (PUD), among them an allowance to surpass the city’s 35-foot building height restriction. The project’s plans at the time called for 45-foot, three-story townhouses.

During the planning board meeting, the three dissenting board members voiced displeasure with several of the development’s proposals, saying it was too urban and dense for Whitefish. One of the major worries was the height allowance, which the council also raised at the April 20 meeting.

In addition to the height variance, the council expressed concern over the number of trees that would need to be removed; building materials; storm water management and the proposed canoe access on the northeast side of the development. Council instructed the developer to address these concerns and return again on May 18.

At the May 18 meeting, Greg Stratton of The Aspen Group outlined the developer’s new conditions, the most important being the height requirement. Stratton told councilors the developer has lowered the tallest building heights to 39 ½ feet, not counting chimneys or other protuberances on top. He also said he has found a naturally tree-less path that leads most of the way to the water, thus eliminating the need to remove too many trees for the canoe access.

After adding language that made the height requirement easier to understand and additional language that would prevent the development from being used for overnight rental in the future, the council unanimously approved the project.

The Aspen Group is also developing the large Starling project on 640 acres near Glacier High School in Kalispell.

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