Whitefish Downtown Plan Solidifying

By Beacon Staff

An update to the Whitefish Downtown Master Plan was presented to the public March 12 in what is likely the final hearing before the matter goes before the city council for approval later this spring.

Crandall-Arambula, the Portland, Ore. consulting firm that drafted the original downtown master plan in 2006, has designed the update that if adopted would become an amendment to the Whitefish growth policy.

The downtown plan is meant to be a guide for future projects, zoning and development and works as a companion document to the growth policy and area neighborhood plans.

Don Arambula, a principal with the firm, highlighted top-priority projects in the plan, including the design and construction of a new City Hall and parking structure at the existing site on the corner of Baker Avenue and Second Street.

The council selected Helena-based Mosaic Architecture to design the $11.5 million facility.

Other priorities include improvements along Baker Avenue; a Whitefish promenade and protected bikeway along Spokane Avenue; and a pedestrian emphasis and street improvements on Central Avenue and in the Railway District.

Another key recommendation is creating a downtown retail loop by extending stores on Central Avenue and expanding retail growth into the Railway District along First and Third streets and Lupfer Avenue, using the same streetscape design along Central Avenue.

“There’s a lot of retail west of Baker that needs to be tied to Second Street. I feel that’s a great impediment to access the Railway District,” Arambula said.

To accomplish the retail-only zone, city-zoning regulations would need to be amended to require ground-floor retail exclusivity in the downtown loop, according to a report from the planning department.

Arambula also proposed a downtown “living room,” which would be constructed by paving a plaza at the intersection of Railway Street and Central Avenue just west of the train depot.