Whitefish City Council Approves Plans to Expand Assisted Living Facility By 124 Units

The council's approval of the project also came with an additional condition of approval emphasizing that the city's architectural review board consider public concerns with the site plan layout

By Mike Kordenbrock
Whitefish City Hall. Beacon file photo

At its June 3 meeting, the Whitefish City Council unanimously approved a planned unit development to expand The Springs, an assisted living and memory care facility, that is aimed at increasing its capacity by 124 units.

The planned unit development submitted by Oregon-based Whitefish Facility LLC to expand The Springs calls for construction of an additional 80 independent living units and the construction of a separate multi-family building with 44 units, which will be age restricted. The expansion calls for construction primarily on the eastern portion of the 5.57-acre property located at River Lakes Parkway in an area near Logan Health’s Whitefish campus, the new North Valley Music School, and Smith Fields. The expansion will bring the total density of The Springs to 202 units. It also calls for a significant increase in onsite parking through the creation of additional parking lot space, which will bring the total number of parking spots to 254.

But the council’s decision to approve the planned unit development came after public comment in which several advocates and community members, although generally supportive of the expansion, raised concerns about what they characterized as a lack of access to green space, difficult sidewalk layouts, and a lack of connectivity to neighboring properties and walking paths.

Diane Conradi, of Safe Trails Whitefish, said that while the new design solves some problems, it doesn’t solve problems for people like her mom, who she said finds it confusing to be in parking lots, or traveling on sidewalks abutting parking lots, which is part of what the site plan calls for. She also noted that other people at The Springs who use wheelchairs, but may not have someone to push them around, could have difficulty knowing when to turn back without an out-and-back trail design.

A rendering depicting the proposed expansion of The Springs, an assisted living and memory care facility in Whitefish that aims to increase its capacity by adding 124 units. Courtesy image

Conradi urged the council to take a look at whether the development could have a better connective experience for people who are mobility challenged, and asked that the developer either reconsider the layout, or that the city require the developer to produce a plan with better pedestrian circulation.

Julie Tickle, the executive director of the outdoor disability recreation nonprofit DREAM Adaptive Recreation, similarly asked the council and the developer to work together on an expansion that enhances the quality of life for residents, saying that thoughtful, universally designed connected pathways and green spaces are essential.

At Councilor Frank Sweeney’s behest, the council at one point considered postponing rendering a decision until its next meeting, something Sweeney said he hoped would give the developer time to meet with concerned community members and try to adjust and reconsider certain components of its site plan.

But architect Ray Yancey of LRS Architects, who worked on the development design, told the council that he didn’t think that was enough time to consider and potentially implement significant changes to the plan. He estimated that would take at least four to six weeks to accomplish, and the delay would push back the project’s construction timeline. Yancey suggested that the city could approve the planned unit development, and that the site plans could then be reconsidered by working with the city’s architectural review board.

City Attorney Angela Jacobs told the council that approval of a planned unit development generally entails substantial compliance with the site plans submitted with the PUD application. She told the council to consider amending language in the conditions of approval so that the site plan be in substantial compliance with whatever is approved by the architectural review board and in conjunction with input from community members.

While Sweeney said he was reluctant to “nitpick” the site plan at this stage, he also questioned whether or not the number of parking spaces was necessary, given the limited number of personal vehicles for residents.

At the Whitefish Community Development Board last month, board member Toby Scott also questioned the number of parking spaces, and asked if The Springs would consider opting for less parking. Chris Shelby, The Springs’ director, explained the rationale for the number of parking spaces, saying that right now they have 62 employees spread out across three shifts, but that by the time the expansion is done they anticipate having more than 100 employees, and that they will also use some of the lot for winter snow storage. Scott Wurster, who sits on the community development board, and whose mother is a resident at The Springs, also mentioned at last month’s meeting that there are increased parking needs that come with large family events.

Councilors Giuseppe Caltabiano and Steve Qunell both lamented that the site plan concerns from community members had not been raised at the May meeting of the Community Development Board, where the project was given a recommendation of approval with little public comment offered.

Ultimately, the council opted to scrap the idea of postponing a decision on the development after Sweeney failed to garner any additional votes of support, and his motion failed on a 3-1 vote, with Caltabiano, Qunell and Ben Davis voting against. The council did however add a condition of approval put forward by Sweeney requiring the city’s architectural review board review the site plan in consideration of the concerns raised at the June 3 council meeting before making its recommendations to city staff.

The vote to approve the planned unit development was unanimous, with the exception of Councilors Rebecca Norton and Andy Feury, both of whom Mayor John Muhlfeld said had excused absences from the council meeting.

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