Whitefish Planning Board to Consider 146-Unit Affordable Housing Project

The project by developer Mick Ruis includes plans to deed restrict 44 units of housing, and will come before the planning board as the city continues to deal with a housing crisis

By Mike Kordenbrock
Proposed Whitefish Community Corridor project. Courtesy rendering

The Whitefish Planning Board is scheduled to host a hearing on May 18 for a project that could bring 146 new units of housing to Whitefish, including 44 units that would be deed-restricted for permanent affordability for people making between 60% and 80% of the area median income.

The project, called the Whitefish Corridor Community, is currently designed to include a mixture of one- and two-bedroom apartments divided among seven buildings on a 6.55 acre piece of land north of Edgewood Place and between Texas Avenue and Colorado Avenue. The buildings would range in height between two and three stories, and the estimated timeline for completion of the project is between 18 and 26 months, beginning on the west end of the property and progressing east.

The applicant for the development is Ruis Texco LLC., a company owned by Columbia Falls developer Mick Ruis.

The hearing will be to consider the developer’s request for a planned unit development for construction of the project. City staff are recommending conditional approval of the project. After the planning board hearing, the city council is expected to hold a hearing on the development on June 19. The land in question is a combination of 2.33 acres of WR-4 high density multifamily residential zoning, and 4.23 acres of WR-2 two-family residential district zoning.

A community housing needs assessment commissioned by the city of Whitefish and made public last August showed that the city needed 1,300 new units of housing by 2030, and that 75% of those would need to be below market rate, including 580 rentals. Between 2016 and 2021 just 76 such units of below market rate housing were added to the community out of the 1,069 total new units of housing the city added over the same period.

As part of the PUD request the developer is asking for a deviation to the city’s ordinance for rear yard parking setbacks for open air parking adjacent to single family use zones. That request is to decrease the setback distance in those areas from 15 feet to 5 feet.

The affordable housing being offered by the developer qualifies the project for the city’s Legacy Home Incentives program, allowing for a reduction of parking space requirements and an increase in allowable density. According to a Whitefish city staff report, the developer has proposed 280 parking spaces, but is qualified to go as low as 256 spaces. Without incentives the developer would be required to include 306 parking spaces. Similarly, with the incentive program’s density bonus, the developer could construct 167 units of housing, but the project calls for 146 units of housing. Without the PUD and incentives, the property could be developed to include 139 units of housing.

Among the 11 conditions of approval put forward by city staff are requirements that the developer install a crosswalk and improve the sidewalk ramp on the west side of Colorado Avenue, and work with the Montana Department of Transportation to improve the timing of the intersection at Edgewood Place and Wisconsin Avenue.

Among the findings of fact in the city staff report submitted to the planning board is that the character and qualities of existing neighborhoods “are being preserved and protected because the layout of the project takes into consideration the surrounding land uses and zoning districts by placing less massive buildings along streets and larger buildings within the center of the property.”

The staff report also finds the project to be in compliance with the city’s growth policy, and that based on the submitted Traffic Impact Study, the increase in delay at studied intersections would not create an unreasonable impact to the transportation system “such that safety may be compromised,” and that intersections at East Second Street and Bake Avenue, and at Wisconsin Avenue and Woodside Lane, would have acceptable levels of service whether or not the project is developed.

A preliminary application had gone before the Whitefish Architectural Review committee last October, and city staff had reviewed an application around the same time, but it was still in need of some additional information, including a traffic study.

The planning board meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. on May 18 in the Whitefish City Council Chambers.