Downtown plan gets unanimous nod

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Main Street in downtown Kalispell on Thursday, Jan. 19. (Matt Baldwin/Daily Inter Lake)

The Kalispell City Council came to an inevitable, long-awaited conclusion Monday night when they unanimously passed an update to the downtown plan.

The downtown plan is the culmination of about three years of drafting, solicitation of public feedback and reworking. It is basically a vision for the future that will guide municipal planning decisions in both the immediate and long-term future for the city.

The council has held numerous public hearings where residents of the downtown area and the wider Flathead Valley have lobbied opinions. The most contentious points involved changes meant to impact traffic flow.

As part of an effort to discourage large trucks from using Main Street as simply a route through town, the plan recommends cutting the lanes of traffic from four to three, which would include one lane going in each direction with a turning lane in the middle.

Many business owners spoke in support of the idea, saying less and slower traffic would surely be a boon to business. Many others said all traffic is good traffic when they are trying to get as many people in their store as possible.

The council on Monday was quick to note that the plan is only a visionary document, and while the specific points and recommendations are likely to be carried out in the years ahead, there are no immediate plans to enact the changes in the coming weeks or months.

Councilman Chad Graham also noted the importance of passing the plan in the city’s ongoing disagreement with Montana Department of Transportation regarding the future of the courthouse couplet. The plan acknowledges that the couplet has served as the entrance to the city for many years, and as traffic has increased it has been altered to service it.

In a 1993 study, MDT recommended expanding the couplet to have two lanes of traffic in each direction. That option has been unpopular in Kalispell, and Graham said having this plan on the books allows the city to take a seat at the table and urge the state to figure out a way to mesh the two entity’s plans for the future. The plan also encourages further improvements to the recently-constructed bypass.

Before the vote, councilors took turns speaking to their thoughts on their deliberative process. The plan was going to be voted on at the Nov. 20 meeting, but councilors tabled the vote because they were inundated with a large amount of public comment just before the deadline.

After that break, council members returned to the chambers for Monday night’s meeting and dressed down the members of the public who submitted feedback. Councilman Timothy Kluesner accusing some of lobbying comments without reading the documents and submitting them with no address, and said it was impossible to determine how to interpret the comment when he didn’t know the perspective from which the person was writing.

Councilman Phil Guiffrida said he was exasperated with people giving conflicting comments that didn’t recognize the realities of the situation. He said he had received comments from people who said they were in favor of widening sidewalks but absolutely opposed to cutting lanes of traffic from four to three. He said you couldn’t have it both ways, and it didn’t seem that constituents always understood that.

The two people who spoke at public comment on the night of the vote were both in favor of the plan as written, and each councilor expressed they thought it was well vetted and would be good for the city’s future.

The final approved plan can be found on the Kalispell Planning Department web page, at www.kalispell.com/planning/.

Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or pfrissell@dailyinterlake.com.

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