Hearings Thursday for big housing project in Whitefish

·5 min read

Oct. 20—One of the biggest housing projects ever proposed in Whitefish, along with a request for accompanying commercial development — all at the base of Big Mountain — is the focus of two public hearings Thursday before the Whitefish Planning Board.

Arim Mountain Gateway LLC is requesting a planned-unit development in order to develop the mixed residential and commercial project with a total of 318 residential units, including 270 apartments, 24 townhouses and 24 condominiums north of the intersection of East Lakeshore Drive and Big Mountain Road. The project includes three county lots that would be annexed into the city if the project is approved.

A planned-unit development, or PUD, is a planning mechanism that enables developers to allow greater flexibility in the configuration of buildings or uses on a property than are allowed in standard zoning ordinances. In this case, Arim Mountain Gateway is asking for a residential planned-unit development on 32.7 acres on the north side of the Big Mountain Road intersection with East Lakeshore Drive.

A residential PUD permits all types of housing, including multifamily, single-family and two-family dwellings, plus a combination of attached and detached townhouses, apartments or condos, according to the Whitefish Planning Office staff report.

The city property within the project site is zoned two-family residential and low-density multi-family residential, and the county lots are zoned two-family residential.

The PUD application also asks for a zoning deviation for height that would give the developer the ability to build up to four stories for portions of the multi-family buildings. In this case Arim Mountain Gateway proposes to voluntarily participate in the city's Legacy Homes Program, and by doing so is eligible for certain incentives such as the height variance, the staff report notes.

The developer proposes to provide 32 deed-restricted affordable rental units, or 10% of the project, through the Legacy Homes Program.

In exchange for the zoning deviation, the developer proposes other community benefits, including the dedication of 1.5 acres to the city for a future fire station and a separated bike path along the west side of Big Mountain Road. And within the streetscape the project includes a spot for a SNOW bus stop and a proposed roundabout at the intersection. However, since Big Mountain road is a state secondary road, the Montana Department of Transportation ultimately would decide what type of traffic device would be installed at the intersection.

THE PLANNING Board will hold a public hearing first on the residential PUD request, and then a second hearing will focus on the developer's request for a conditional zone change that would amend the Whitefish zoning map from two-family residential to neighborhood commercial zoning.

Conditional zoning allows a developer to rezone a property into a blended zone offering restrictions on development requirements and future uses in exchange for the allowance for some additional uses, the staff report says.

Will MacDonald, one of the developers behind the project, told the Daily Inter Lake earlier the commercial space would include a small grocery market and potentially a daycare center.

The developers hosted public meetings about the project in August, with neighbors voicing concerns about traffic, housing density, scale of the entire development and the water-quality impact to nearby Whitefish Lake. Since then, the public opposition to the project has grown louder, with roughly 300 letters submitted to the city. Nearly all of those who have commented are opposed to the project.

MacDonald has pointed out that the entire development would help address the city's housing crisis. None of the new housing units would be used as short-term rentals, and the condos could be an economic stepping stone for first-time homebuyers, he told the Inter Lake

"The whole nexus of this development was to try and take a chunk out of the housing problem," MacDonald said in an earlier interview. "We want to create a live-work-play sort of environment."

MacDonald also has pointed out, as does the planning report, that the proposed gross density of the site, at 9.72 dwelling units per acre, is below the 12.4 dwellings per acre that by right could be developed there with a PUD.

The land is owned by Joe Gregory, who also owns the Krummholz Lodge, a gated vacation compound on Whitefish Lake. Gregory sought to build a resort and residential development on the Big Mountain Road property in 2017, but those plans never received approval from the city.

Other developers involved in the project include James Barnett, Craig Denman of Denman Construction, and Sean Averill of Averill Hospitality, which owns The Lodge at Whitefish Lake and the downtown Firebrand Hotel.

The project also has backing from Matthew Fritter of American Residential Investment Management, which owns the new Silverbrook Estates in Kalispell, according to MacDonald.

IN OTHER business, the Planning Board will hold a public hearing on a request by the city of Whitefish for zoning text amendments that outline where marijuana may be sold when sales become legal on Jan. 1, 2022. The city currently has a city-wide ban on storefront medical marijuana facilities, but with the passage of citizen Initiative I-190 last year, pot sales for adult use will be legal. The city is updating its standards to have them in place before the new year.

The text amendments lay out which zoning districts where various types of marijuana facilities would be permitted, administratively permitted, or conditionally permitted. In general, sales would be administrative conditional uses in the WB1, WB2 and WB3 commercial zones, as well as the industrial zones of WB4, W-I and WBSD, according to the Planning Office staff report.

Formula retail restrictions would apply in the WB-1 and WB-3 ones, and manufacturing and testing facilities would be allowed in industrial zones and the WB-2 zone. Outdoor cultivation would be permitted where agricultural uses currently are permitted.

The Planning Board has postponed a public hearing on zoning text amendments for residential short-term rentals until its Nov. 18 meeting.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, at City Hall, 418 E. Second St. The meeting also will be available to view and comment via Webex. Instructions can be found on the city's website.

The application, renderings and other documents related to the Mountain Gateway project can be found at cityofwhitefish.org/428/current-land-use-actions.

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