Government

Whitefish Unveils South Corridor Plan for Public Review

Under development for three years, the plan serves as a blueprint for traffic and land use along the U.S. 93 corridor south of downtown

By Tristan Scott
A Town Pump gas station and convenience store under construction at the intersection of Highway 40 and U.S. Highway 93 on the south side of Whitefish on May 20, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Under development for three years, a long-range corridor plan to guide future uses along Whitefish’s southern gateway has been completed for public review, setting goals and objectives surrounding land use, transportation, environment, and open spaces.

The plan looks specifically at how the corridor will grow over the next decade and focuses on the prominent linear corridor serving U.S. Highway 93 South from East Sixth Street in Whitefish to Blanchard Lake Road, a mile-and-a-half south of Montana 40.

Parcel size and land uses vary along the corridor, resulting in a distinct character within three different segments: Segment A includes the northern end of the corridor between East Sixth Street and the Whitefish River, which is characterized as having low vehicle speeds, small lot sizes, and small buildings, with some commercial uses in converted residential structures; Segment B extends south from the Whitefish River to city limits near the Highway 40 intersection, where parcels are relatively large to accommodate commercial buildings and large parking lots; and Segment C, which extends from city limits near the Highway 40 intersection to the southern edge of the Growth Policy’s Future Land Use map boundary, situated within the jurisdiction of Flathead County and featuring a range of commercial uses lining the highway, with residential uses running adjacent to the commercial strip.

Despite the delay in implementation, the creation of a Highway 93 South corridor plan has long been a priority project for the city as set by Whitefish City Council.

While the pandemic slowed the plan’s progress, the draft plan is now complete and ready for public review. City Planning Director Dave Taylor and City Long Range Planner Hilary Lindh developed the plan with input from the City Council-appointed Highway 93 South Steering Committee, which has met monthly since its inception in 2018. The scope included a kickoff meeting in September of 2018 as well as a public visioning workshop in January of 2019, while city staff also conducted an online survey for the community to bring up issues and opportunities for the corridor.

Several themes emerged during the public process that helped shape the vision for the corridor, which in turn led to the goals and objectives laid out in the plan. Those include defining the corridor as an entrance to town that should “represent what people who live here think of as the Whitefish character,” according to the plan.

“The Highway 93 South Corridor Plan envisions a corridor representative of the Whitefish character with abundant green spaces dominated by views of surrounding mountain ranges and the Whitefish River,” according to the plan’s executive summary. “It should be a walkable and bikeable corridor with a variety of uses and services available. Many members of the community expressed something like this statement made by a participant in the online survey — ‘keep the small-town feel.’”

The plan also states that there should be “a clear distinction between developed commercial areas within city limits and the more rural and agricultural feel south of the city,” and prioritizes the conveyance of pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicle traffic in a safe and efficient manner.

Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld, also a steering committee member, said he was excited about how the plan turned out as well as the feedback the city received at a recent open house.

“The corridor plan was a lot of hard work, and city staff did a great job sifting through community input and putting it all together,” he said. “We feel this will be a guiding document to really set the table for the gateway into Whitefish from the south, making the corridor a beautiful yet functional entrance into our community.”

The draft plan is slated to go before the Whitefish Planning Board and City Council for formal public hearings in late summer. It is available to view and download at www.cityofwhitefish.org under the Planning & Building Long Range Plans page.

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