Two weeks after it delayed its decision to permit a controversial 54-unit apartment on Skyles Place off Wisconsin Avenue, the Whitefish City Council approved the project at its Aug. 19 meeting, voting 4-3 in favor.
Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld cast the tie-breaking vote to approve a conditional use permit for the applicant, Mark Johnson, who doing business as 519 Skyles Place LLC sought a conditional use permit to develop a 54-unit apartment project at 519, 523 and 525 Skyles Place. The site is developed with three existing homes and commercial buildings (an auto repair business and storage buildings).
The property is zoned WR-4 as a High Density Multi-Family Residential District and the Whitefish Growth Policy designates the property as High Density Residential.
The public voiced concerns about traffic on Wisconsin Avenue and within the neighborhood, parking, the increase in density, the size of the buildings, snow removal, and landscape buffering.
Johnson, the developer and project architect, said the plan was to build a project for long-term workforce housing and the project is composed of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.
Given the close proximity to downtown, Johnson said walking and biking access would decrease future residents’ dependence on a vehicle.
Councilor Katie Williams sympathized with neighbors’ concerns about density and traffic, but said the community needed to accommodate growth in Whitefish. She also said the proposed project complied with zoning statutes and with the Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Plan.
“I get it. Growth is a pain,” Williams said. “It is hard when it is in your backyard and when we have so many people in town during the summer. But I cannot deem it as a justification to deny this based on the criteria that we have set forth. The fact of the matter is we are in Whitefish where people want to live. The Flathead Valley is growing, and with that comes infill. And this is a project that supports infill.”
Councilor Ryan Hennen agreed, and said he takes pride in living in such a desirable place to live at a time when other communities struggle to support a population.
“I can’t in good faith deny this project as it stands,” he said. “We have a workforce housing issue. I forget who said this, but we are not going to single-family hone our way out of this problem. Density is going to be part of the solution.”
Councilor Melissa Hartman joined Williams and Hennen in supporting the project, noting that it was a difficult decision given the volume of opposition.
Councilors Richard Hildner, Andy Feury and Frank Sweeney voted in opposition.