Planning Board faces big decisions

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The Whitefish Planning Board will wrestle with final decision on two key planning proposals at its March 15 meeting – the Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Plan and a neighborhood plan pushing high-density housing on 70 acres fronting U.S. 93 South.

The Wisconsin Avenue plan is the culmination of nine months of neighborhood meetings to determine how the crucial north-south corridor leading to Whitefish Mountain Resort should develop over the next 20 years.

A public hearing in February yielded extensive public input, but with a full meeting agenda the board opted to close the hearing to further comment, but continue its discussion and likely make a decision on March 15. The Wisconsin Avenue plan studies the area between Edgewood Drive and the intersection of Big Mountain Road and East Lakeshore Drive.

The biggest issue to iron out is the future land use of the area near the intersection of East Lakeshore Drive and Big Mountain Road that is owned by Joe Gregory and Glacier Ranch Holdings. The corridor plan recommends suburban residential zoning for the area north of the road, while Gregory and his company favor a resort residential designation or a new designation of residential emphasis with supporting services.

The 56 acres owned by Glacier Ranch holdings is zoned multifamily and urban around the Big Mountain Road intersection, and gets more suburban and rural residential as it goes north.

“This is sharp contrast to the WLR (Whitefish Limited Residential) zoning that is located to the west and south, the low-density residential development to the north, and the resort residential zoning (including the Iron Horse Golf Club practice range) to the east,” the plan notes.

The 27.7 acres around the intersection, should it be subdivided, could develop with 344 dwelling units, with another 79 units on the 28.5 acres that abuts it to the north but is outside the corridor study boundary, the planning staff report noted.

When the 2007 Whitefish growth policy was adopted the future land-use map designated the area as suburban residential in spite of the zoning, largely because that end of Wisconsin Avenue is not suited for the kind of residential densities allowed by the underlying zoning and the zoning is inconsistent with surrounding zoning, the plan states. In the 1996 growth policy that area was designated resort residential.

At the February hearing Tracie Coppedge, director of operations for Glacier Ranch Holdings, said they plan to maintain the character of that area even though they’re requesting a resort residential land-use overlay.

During the neighborhood meetings held by the Wisconsin Avenue Steering Committee Gregory’s consultant presented preliminary plans that showed a potential high-end Glacier Park-style lodge and restaurant on the lake side, with a small marina. A conference center and a member village were proposed on portions of the 56 acres they own on the north side of East Lakeshore Drive, according to the planning staff report.

THE OTHER big decision facing the Planning Board is a neighborhood plan proposed by Whitefish 57 LLC, Eagle Enterprises and Marie Hedman for 70 acres on the west side of U.S. 93 south of Whitefish. They’re asking to change the suburban and rural land-use designations to urban and high density.

The plan is to divide the property into seven separate sections with commercial and residential designations including single-family and multifamily homes. The applicants said they’d commit to designating 10 percent of the housing as affordable units.

Neighbors are opposed to the proposed development and have organized as the South Whitefish Neighborhood Association. They argue the plan doesn’t meet the goals of the growth policy. They’re concerned about how sensitive wetlands would be affected, the density of housing proposed, increased traffic and overall neighborhood intrusion.

The public hearing that began at the February Planning Board meeting will be continued on March 15, with the opportunity for more public input.

The board has six other hearings scheduled, ranging from a couple of conditional-use permit requests for accessory apartments to a request to add a parking standard for studio and one-bedroom apartments under the multifamily dwelling parking standards.

The board meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at Whitefish City Hall, 418 E. Second St.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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