Ending a several-year dilemma, the Whitefish City Council last week unanimously approved the first reading of a compromise to solve retail zoning concerns in the WB-2 Secondary Business District along U.S. Highway 93.
The agreement removes shopping malls from the list of permitted uses, though it grandfathers in the Mountain Mall, allowing the mall to continue operating as it is now.
Among the permitted uses added through the agreement are hair salons, convenience stores, floor coverings stores, automobile repair and parts, medical clinics and associated therapeutic health services, and automobile rental businesses.
Sporting goods, a major concern of downtown advocates, is not included in the list of permitted uses, though the newly established “military surplus” use will allow for Army Navy to become a legally conforming business.
The committee also asked the city to pursue a corridor study for the district.
The city has long sought to address zoning issues along the Highway 93 strip because of what Planning and Zoning Director Dave Taylor describes as “inconsistencies, archaic language, and existing illegal uses.”
Over the years, businesses have emerged that are not allowed in the WB-2 district’s zoning codes. When the idea was proposed to expand retail uses to bring these businesses into compliance, and address other zoning questions, downtown advocates voiced concern that the town’s retail core would be damaged.
Last year the council rejected a proposal to alter zoning regulations in the WB-2 district, only to reconsider the issue later that year. The council tabled it in November, paving the way for the formation of an advisory committee tasked with working out a compromise.
For three months, mediators Brian Muldoon and Dru Jackman worked with 19 stakeholders “to come up with a mutually agreed upon solution to the issues,” according to Taylor’s staff report. There were five representatives each from the city, downtown and at-large. Four representatives were from the WB-2 district, though one dropped out.
At the same council meeting on April 18, the council voted to approve a sign variance for Great Northern Brewing Co. With the variance, the beer brewing company is allowed to keep its Black Star sign, as well as two neon signs.
Three individual violations were addressed in the variance: number of signs, total sign area and the blinking of one of the neon signs. The business will have to submit a permit and pay a fee.
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