Whitefish Planning Board Recommends Approval of Corridor Plan

Council will take final action on Wisconsin Avenue growth plan next month

By Tristan Scott
Whitefish Lake, seen from the air during an EcoFlight tour on June 27, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

A blueprint designed to steer future growth along the lone artery connecting downtown Whitefish to Big Mountain was met with unanimous support March 15 by the city’s planning board, which forwarded a recommendation of approval to city council for final action.

The Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Plan is the product of a nine-month planning process that included a raft of neighborhood meetings and the formation of a steering committee to examine future land uses on the critical transportation link connecting Whitefish Mountain Resort, Whitefish Lake and downtown.

The plan is a collaborative, community-driven effort to build a framework for commercial growth in the corridor over the next 10 to 20 years. The plan takes into account market forces, city infrastructure investment, environmental protections, and community character.

The two-lane secondary highway bristles with “activity nodes” running from Edgewood Drive to the intersection of Big Mountain Road and East Lakeshore Drive, with mixed uses including businesses like the Stumptown Ice Den, Alpine Market, Bonsai Brewing Company, and the Lodge at Whitefish Lake, as well as neighborhood commercial, resort residential, office, and both single- and multi-family housing.

But more than a decade ago, recognizing the development pressures on the area, the city of Whitefish adopted a growth policy that identified a corridor plan as a priority on Wisconsin Avenue, and as traffic has continued to increase along with development pressure, city officials and residents have recently poured their efforts into crafting a final plan.

The final product bears few differences to the future land uses identified by the 2007 growth policy, and the steering committee did not implement any sweeping changes.

Still, a list of action items make recommendations to track and steer development, including options for road widening, additional turn lanes, and intersection improvements.

Other options include expanding transit, building park-and-ride lots and looking into the feasibility of additional emergency services, such as a fire hall near Big Mountain Road.

The average annual daily traffic count on the corridor in 2016 was 11,500 vehicles, raising concerns that congestion and public safety will become even more pronounced. The plan identifies traffic-calming improvements to mitigate those concerns.

Also of prime importance is the corridor’s proximity to the Whitefish Lake watershed, and the plan considers potential impacts development could have on diminishing its quality.

The community-driven process was designed to engage homeowners, business owners, public agencies, and other stakeholders, some of whom pushed back against dramatic changes to future land suses.

Key sites the plan focused on include the former trailer park on Edgewood Drive, which is zoned commercial and could be developed with a planned unit development; the reclaimed gravel pit on the west side of Wisconsin Avenue across the street from Alpine Market, which could link residents to commercial services; and the intersection of Big Mountain Road and East Lakeshore Drive, which could be developed as suburban residential.

However, the steering committee and planning board did not agree to a request by property owner Joe Gregory to change the pair of 28-acre parcels to resort residential, which could have accommodated his interest in developing an upscale resort lodge on Whitefish Lake, or even a market at the intersection.

The Whitefish City Council will take final action at its April 2 meeting.

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