Whitefish corridor at a crossroad

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Whitefish has been between the proverbial rock and a hard spot for some time over planning control of the U.S. 93 corridor south of the intersection with Montana 40.

The city battled in court for years with Flathead County and ultimately was ordered by the state Supreme Court to cede control to the county. While Whitefish has never wanted to see strip development along the highway, the city has always wanted a voice in how that area, as the highest profile entrance to the city, develops.

To further solidify county control — and from Whitefish’s viewpoint, to add insult to injury — the county commissioners last year approved a U.S. 93 South corridor plan that opened the door for more commercial development, with the county calling the shots.

Now a plan has emerged that would once again give Whitefish a measure of control over future development of the corridor. Breaking with historic city policy to not extend water and sewer service south of Montana 40, the City Council is now considering such utility extensions as it updates the city’s extension of services plan.

Proposed language in the draft plan says it clearly: “Council is now amenable to extending services, at a maximum, to Blanchard Lake Road concurrent with annexation.” It is, of course, that “A” word that will give the city control and quite frankly may give property owners along the highway some real heartburn.

Whitefish Planning Director David Taylor pointed out during a recent council work session that once those outlying properties get city services and are annexed, they’ll have to fall in line with the city’s review process, including architectural standards for new construction. “It does allow us to maintain more control,” he said.

Some downtown supporters don’t think extending services is a good idea because the potential sprawl would change the character of the small town so many have tried to preserve. We understand that rationale to a point, but time marches on and cities grow. It’s irresponsible for Whitefish not to have a plan for future growth beyond city limits, even though this particular highway corridor is under county jurisdiction.

There is still time to weigh in on this latest twist in the city’s ongoing quest to guide growth outside its borders. The Planning Board and City Council will be considering adoption of the extension of services plan in the coming months. We’ll keep you posted.

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