The Kalispell City Council on Monday approved an annexation, rezoning and conditional-use permit that allows a proposed 324-unit apartment complex to move forward.
The complex being developed by Brytech Construction, LLC is slated for a 15-acre parcel of undeveloped land north of Two Mile Drive, east of Northwest Missionary Baptist Church and west of Yellowstone Street. It includes three separate clusters of three-story buildings with a recreational facility in each one. A line of one-story parking facilities would surround most of the complex.
The plan was met with disdain throughout the public hearing process from neighbors who live in the area. Dozens came before the Planning Board at its December and February meetings, and many of the same residents spoke again at the City Council meeting Monday evening,
Todd Whipple of Whipple Consulting was present at all of the meetings as a representative of the developer.
Both city officials and area residents acknowledged there is a need for more affordable housing in Kalispell — it is just a matter of where it should go and what it should look like.
“Really it just comes to whether we want to build out or build up,” said Jarod Nygren, senior planner with the city.
Several people who live or own rental properties near the proposed site requested the city restrict the apartment buildings to two stories. They said this would ease traffic impacts and also reduce the impact to views.
“It would be a 40-foot-high wall of apartments,” said Marilyn Driscoll, who lives near the site. “From the outside, it would resemble the Pentagon.”
Councilman Phil Guiffrida pointed out that the setback of the apartments from the property line was significant. He also said that if the city didn’t annex the property, the developer could go through the county, which has a different set of regulations.
He also noted that if people wanted to protect their views, they should invest in open, undeveloped lots rather than counting on someone else to keep them as open, undeveloped lots.
“I get where you are coming from, but you have to own the property,” Guiffrida said.
Since December, city planning officials have tried to assuage traffic concerns by telling residents that in order to obtain a building permit, the developer had to pay for a full traffic study from an independent firm. If the study found the level of service was diminished, the developer would have to pay for improvements that would allow the streets to handle the increased level of traffic.
Neighbors appeared doubtful that would happen, and several demanded the full traffic study be performed before even a conditional-use permit was issued.
Whipple said it was very common for traffic studies to be performed later in the process.
He added that he was used to people not wanting open spaces developed, but didn’t understand why people were surprised by the development of a 15-acre parcel of land close to downtown.
“I have never had a project that has been popular,” Whipple said, “but I am always surprised it is a surprise. We try to be as empathetic as possible.”
Residents also raised concerns about stormwater flowing off the proposed site and onto adjacent properties. The developer has proposed underground stormwater retention ponds to prevent it.
Councilman Kyle Waterman was the lone dissenting vote on the issue. He said he would like to see the developer invest additional resources in more sidewalks surrounding neighborhood, though that is not required under current city standards.
For years, there was no requirement that developers pay for sidewalks adjacent to the property they develop. The requirements now have resulted in neighborhoods with sidewalks in some places but not others.
Sidewalk requirements for these missing pieces had been debated before the Planning Board, but it was ultimately turned down because members thought it would be inappropriate for the city to require developers today to make up for inadequate city regulations of the past.
Councilman Wayne Saverud and Kari Gabriel expressed similar sentiments about wanting to see a requirement attached for additional sidewalks, though both ultimately voted in favor of issuing the permit without that requirement attached.
Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.