Whitefish City Council Votes to Approve Multi-Family Housing Development

The Whitefish Corridor Community — proposed by Columbia Falls developer Mick Ruis — will bring 146 rental apartments to the city, 44 of which will be deed-restricted units

By Denali Sagner
Proposed Whitefish Community Corridor project. Courtesy rendering

The Whitefish City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to approve a development that will bring 146 rental apartments to the north side of Whitefish.

Called the Whitefish Corridor Community, the development will include a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments, 30% of which, or 44 units, will be deed restricted for permanent affordability. The project will be located between Texas and Colorado Avenues north of Edgewood Place on 6.55 acres of land.

The proposed development is a project of Ruis Texco LLC, a company owned by Columbia Falls developer Mick Ruis.

Lauri Moffet-Fehlberg, the senior vice president of DAHLIN Architecture, the architecture firm partnering with Ruis, spoke on behalf of the developer. Moffet-Fehlberg described the developer’s history of working with the community and said the project seeks to alter the neighborhood as minimally as possible, while still increasing inventory in a tight housing market.

The Whitefish Planning Board last month voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council approve the planned development, with one condition that the developer adds buffering along edges of the parking lot to provide privacy for adjacent homes.

Prior to the planning board meeting, city staff recommended approval of the development pending a handful of conditions, including the installation of a crosswalk and improved pedestrian ramp on Colorado Avenue, the installation and inspection of tree protection zones and improvements to the intersection at Edgewood Place and Wisconsin Avenue, through a partnership between the developer and the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT).

Reviewing the staff report prepared by the Whitefish Planning and Building Department, Senior Planner Wendy Compton-Ring said that the developers have “demonstrated clear community benefit” in providing affordable housing to the city.

Nathan Dugan, co-founder and president of local housing nonprofit Shelter WF, said that the organization is “in full support of this project” and applauded city staff, elected officials, Whitefish residents and the developers for cooperating to conceptualize a project that is widely supported in a community that has long resisted new housing developments.

Mallory Phillips, co-founder and treasurer of Shelter WF, applauded not only the 44 deed-restricted units in the proposed Whitefish Corridor Community, but the 102 market-rate apartments, which she said will increase options for local residents and moderate the housing market.

“You want your community members to have choice, otherwise we’ll without a doubt turn into a hollowed out Montana version of Jackson, Wyoming or Aspen, in which community members are constantly having to move if they can find housing at all, or living 10 people to a house, or live in their vehicles just so they can stay in the communities they love,” Phillips said.

Cameron Blake, a member of the Flathead Families for Responsible Growth board of directors, voiced the organization’s support for the project.

While some residents expressed concerns about the development during public comment — including the displacement of the four residential homes currently on the property, the added pressure on local traffic and fire services, and disruption to surrounding homes, specifically due to headlights shining into neighboring backyards from the parking lot — commenters overwhelmingly spoke in favor of the project.

Before approving the project, Councilor Rebecca Norton brought forward a motion to bar the developers from constructing basements due to concerns about the water table. While Moffet-Fehlberg said that basements were not a part of the development plan, Norton said she felt the amendment was important in the case that the project gets sold to another developer. The motion passed 3-2.

Councilor Giuseppe Caltabiano brought a motion to approve the development, which passed unanimously.

Though he voiced his support for the project and voted to approve it, Councilor Frank Sweeney added an acknowledgement of the way the development may change the neighborhood, in some cases, adversely.

“When you add density to areas and when you add elevation to areas that are single family, we damage, in some respect, our neighbors and the people who have been here for quite some time,” Sweeney said. “I think we all have to temper our enthusiasm when we’re talking about these kinds of projects with that fact.”

More information on the Whitefish Corridor Community can be found on a the developer’s project website