The Whitefish City Council on Monday night approved a proposal to develop a 58-unit “100-percent affordable” subdivision targeting the local workforce housing market, a move that brings the community closer to narrowing its affordable-housing gap.
In a unanimous vote, the council approved the Trail View project southwest of the intersection of Monegan and Voerman roads, south of Creekwood Estates on the eastern edge of Whitefish.
The applicant, Jerry Dunker, said the 58-lot subdivision is composed entirely of affordable housing units. He appeared before the council because the project requires a preliminary plat with a planned-unit development (PUD) overlay for the development to move forward.
Numerous residents of the adjacent Creekwood spoke in opposition to the proposed development, saying the infrastructure does not currently exist to support the uptick in traffic.
Dunker, a full-time perfusionist with Kalispell Regional Healthcare, said he understands the concern of neighboring residents who already struggle with traffic safety.
But he explained that a project of this kind is needed in Whitefish, whose city leaders adopted a blueprint to guide the community as it grapples with an affordable housing crisis.
Andy Feury, whose public service in Whitefish dates back two decades, said he sympathizes with neighbors’ concerns. Still, Feury said he remembers identical concerns being voiced in 2001 by neighbors living adjacent to Creekwood when that subdivision was proposed.
“This is a classic example of the problem with affordable housing. Everybody wants it, nobody wants it next door,” Feury said. “You are making valid arguments. But I was also sitting here in 2001 when your subdivision was up for consideration and I heard all of those same arguments from the property owners surrounding you.
“We really need houses in this community that people can actually live in. If we deny, we are going to have another subdivision proposed before too long. And there will be 35 homes and they will be between $500,000 and $1 million.”
Feury said the project, which is being privately funded, is precisely the type of development identified as critical by the 2016 workforce housing study, which was undertaken as residents grappled with a scarce rental inventory, while homeownership remains out of reach for young professionals looking to enter an outsized market that towers above the average household income.
The report identified the need for 980 new affordable units by 2020, 400 of which need to be single-family ownership units.
“Trail View will be providing 15 percent of that need,” Stephen Flink, who is providing technical assistance on the development, told the council.
According to Dunker, the proposed planned-unit development “will provide 100 percent affordable, single-family homes,” meaning every home must be the primary residence for a local worker. The resale costs of all homes are set by the local housing authority to ensure they are sold to another qualified buyer.
“These are not second homes, they are not rentals,” Dunker said. “The owners must live in city limits, and resale is only to another qualified buyer. It’s affordable forever.”
Dunker said the Whitefish Housing Authority will set the price for the units.
The 58-unit detached, single-family homes with garages and storage spaces will be developed on 8.8 acres. The application calls for a density of 6.6 units per acre, 66 percent open space and a public trail.
According to the application, 100 percent of the units will be deed restricted with 50 percent (29 units) having a price limitation to serve a particular area median income within the community.
The homes will be designed as single-family two- and three-story structures between 900 and 1,300 square feet.
Rhonda Fitzgerald, owner of the Garden Wall Inn in Whitefish, said denying the proposal would be anathema to the city’s goal of addressing the affordable housing crisis.
“If you deny this project what developer will come forward with one like it?” she said. “You need to set an example that you actually support this solution because we can just forget the idea that this market will provide any affordable housing for people who work here on its own.”
Laura Hutton, a speech language therapist in a local school district, said the Trail View development marks the first time in recent memory that home ownership has been within her grasp.
“I don’t want to live anywhere else,” Hutton said, adding that she recently qualified for a $250,000 loan, making a unit at Trail View feasible.
In another unanimous vote during the May 21 meeting, council approved a proposal by Schumacher Interest Inc., which requested a planned-unit development overlay to develop 60 condominiums at 6405 U.S. 93 South, near the Mountain Mall pond beside Sportsman and Ski Haus. The application identifies the development as Eagle Lake.
The condos would be housed in 10 buildings, with between five and 10 buildings per unit.
And the Whitefish City Council voted unanimously to commit $100,000 in tax-increment funding to the owners of Nelson Hardware, who have outgrown their iconic downtown location.
Marilyn Nelson said the family plans to demolish the former Army-Navy store on U.S. 93 South and make site improvements as the owners proceed with plans to relocate.
Although councilor Frank Sweeney said he was disappointed to see the hardware store relocate from downtown after 70 years, the proposal is a good use of TIF money and will brighten a corner of town that has stood out as a vacant eyesore for years.
“This will do the most good in terms of the use of tax increment funds to cure blight and really make something of that area,” Sweeney said. “I hate to lose them downtown. God I hate it. But this is going to be a great project.”