The Whitefish City Council is slated to vote Jan. 21 on a proposal to develop two apartment buildings near the new Muldown Elementary School, where concerned residents say the project’s density will exacerbate traffic problems, compromise safety and clash with the neighborhood’s character, even as most agree with the project’s affordability component.
The proposal to build 36 units on a lot between 7th and 8th streets on Whitefish’s east side is the first project reviewed through the city’s new Legacy Homes Program. Adopted in June, the new zoning rule says that residential developments that need a discretionary permit — such as a conditional-use permit or a planned-unit development — must include 20 percent of new housing units as permanently affordable through the Whitefish Housing Authority.
Called “inclusionary zoning,” the requirements are intended to assist working residents with moderate incomes. In Whitefish, a voluntary inclusionary zoning program has been on the books for years, but has produced very little housing.
In this case, the developer, Central Ave WF, is requesting a conditional-use permit to develop two 18-unit apartment buildings at 1013 E. 7th St. and 1022 E. 8th St. The site is developed with a single-family home that will be removed as part of the project. The property is zoned WR-4 (High Density Multi-Family Residential District) and the Whitefish Growth Policy designates it as “High Density Residential.”
The request comes before council without a recommendation from the Whitefish Planning Board, which considered the proposal at its Dec. 19 meeting but was unable to make a recommendation for or against the project. The Whitefish Planning Department recommends the project subject to conditions of approval.
On Jan. 6, the Whitefish City Council voted to delay a decision on the request after lengthy public testimony from residents who live near the proposed project, as well as the submission of dozens of letters raising concerns, most of them centered on traffic and safety in a residential area surrounded by schools and daycare facilities.
“I believe that the unit size of the project is excessive for the neighborhood, and that it will have a very real and adverse impact on the safety of those school children, the character of the neighborhood, and the already maxed out traffic conditions,” Rob Akey, who lives on 8th Street, wrote.
A prominent point of concern has been the proposed project’s proximity to Whitefish High School, Muldown Elementary School, Whitefish Christian Academy, several preschools, and multiple assisted-living facilities, as well as the attendant traffic congestion during school hours.
“These comments clearly show that this project would negatively and injuriously affect our personal and legal interests, not only by devaluing our property but also by detracting from our quiet and safe enjoyment of our property and neighborhood,” Marie Fleming, a nearby homeowner, wrote to council. “Additionally, these proposed projects would significantly increase the traffic in an already congested and high-risk area, near four schools, two day cares, a church and the Whitefish Manor.”
Other concerns addressed inadequate off-street parking, impacts to property values, strain on the city’s infrastructure, lighting, and noise.
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