Planning board supports revitalization plan

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An ambitious plan to turn Kalispell’s run-down railroad corridor into a vibrant urban core goes before the City Council with a stamp of approval from the city’s advisory planning board.

Planning Board members on Tuesday voted to recommend Kalispell adopt the Core Area Revitalization Plan that has been drafted after an 18-month planning process.

“This is a great plan and I will continue to support it,” said Phil Guiffrida III, a member of both the Kalispell Planning Board and the Kalispell City Council.

The 60-page plan is a guiding document with no force of law or regulation. But it lays out a vision to redevelop a large area of Kalispell that over decades has lost its industrial base.

The initiative was funded by a $175,000 areawide planning grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

City staffers interviewed dozens of property and business owners in the 364-acre corridor to identify community-supported redevelopment goals and lay out steps to accomplish them. The corridor is bordered by Washington Street to the north, First Street to the south and city limits to the east and west.

Guiffrida and other Planning Board members thanked city employees and volunteers on a core area steering committee for both their hard work and an inclusive planning process.

“This framework is based on public input from the people who live in this area. That can’t be stressed enough,” planning board chairman Chad Graham said of the plan.

Chief among the plan’s goals is removing the railroad tracks and moving the last three businesses that use them — CHS Kalispell, Northwest Drywall and Macarthur Co. — to the Flathead County Rail Park being developed on the city’s east side.

Accomplishing that goal — which is expected to cost millions of dollars — would free up a large swath of underutilized land for high-density residential and commercial redevelopment, more parks and green space and new north-south street connections.

A study by Willdan Financial Services is examining the potential costs and feasibility of that goal. The study should be completed by February.

Some of the revitalization plan’s other major goals include:

 Building a linear park and pedestrian trail in the railroad right-of-way and turning the railroad bridge over East Idaho Street into a city gateway and pedestrian bridge;

 Creating new north-south street connections and pedestrian crossings;

 Redeveloping West Center Street between Fifth Avenue West and South Meridian Road;

 Starting and funding a program to replace water and sewer lines that are more than 50 years old so infrastructure does not impede new development in the core area;

 Maintaining a viable Brownfield program to help people address land contamination issues;

 Developing financial assistance programs to help people raze blighted buildings and prepare land for redevelopment and to improve or expand existing buildings;

 Improving pedestrian and bike access throughout the core area with a program to help pay for new sidewalks and sidewalk repairs in high-priority areas.

The full revitalization plan can be read online at www.kalispell.com.

Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at tlotshaw@dailyinterlake.com.

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