Whitefish council mulls big change to zoning regs

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The Whitefish City Council will consider new zoning regulations for the U.S. 93 South corridor and will discuss updating the city’s engineering standards tonight at 7:10 p.m. at City Hall.

The council will look at a significant amendment to the zoning text for the WB-2 secondary business district, which includes the U.S. 93 entrance to Whitefish on the south side of the city. It would reduce the “footprint size requirement that triggers a conditional use permit from 15,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet,” according to a Planning Board staff report.

In addition, all new hotels, motels, auto-service and gasoline stations would need conditional-use permits.

According to the report, the large numbers of rooms in hotels and motels “put pressure on city services,” including municipal water capacity and sewer systems, and limit how many residences can be built until water treatment facilities are upgraded.

The report also notes there is not enough affordable housing to support the “low-wage service workers” more new hotels would require. If these workers had to commute from other communities, it would contribute to Whitefish’s traffic issues.

As for the conditional-use permit requirement for “auto service stations and convenience stores,” the report states these buildings “create traffic impacts, add light pollution from pump canopies, and have large amounts of paving and impervious surface.”

On Nov. 21, the Whitefish Planning Board recommended approval of the zoning text amendment and unanimously passed a motion to send the issue to the council.

The amendment would also change the definition of “hospitality and entertainment” to create a stand-alone definition of “entertainment.”

“Entertainment” would be categorized as “uses catering to visitors and residents that provide recreational activities, including indoor theaters, bowling alleys, enclosed skating or golf facilities, and other similar indoor facilities,” according to the Whitefish Planning Board’s recommendation.

This would maintain the precedence that “entertainment uses” would not require a conditional-use permit.

ALSO ON the City Council’s agenda is a resolution to update the Whitefish Public Works Department’s engineering standards. The engineering standards were last updated in February 2009, and the Public Works Department says it has been working on a new update for several years.

The resolution would add an entirely new chapter on storm sewer systems to the Public Works Department’s standards document. This includes updated regulatory thresholds, such as the threshold for compliance with the city’s stormwater requirements increasing from 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of new “impervious area development.”

The update would include new standards for water systems, including new language restricting the construction of private wells. It would prohibit new wells on any property “if an approved water main is readily available within 200 feet of the property,” according to the proposed language.

The resolution includes the standard that all decorative street lights have LED bulbs.

The council will also review the annual Impact Fee Report after discussion was postponed at the Nov. 18 meeting.

The report shows the source and amount of money collected, public improvements financed in whole or in part by impact fees and any administrative expenses incurred by impact fee funds.

“Whitefish has continued to see strong building and growth over the past few years, which has continued into the first few months of FY20. Impact fee revenues exceeded budgeted expectations in FY19 and were up 68.8% from FY18,” the report states.

Impact fees are a source of funding for eligible projects in Whitefish’s Capital Improvements Program. The reports states that the city anticipates using “significant amounts of water and wastewater impact fees” in the near future.

The council will begin a special session at 5:30 p.m. to continue interviewing candidates for vacant board and committee positions, followed by a work session at 6 p.m. to discuss regulations for retaining walls and to hear a presentation on solar feasibility.

Reporter Colin Gaiser may be reached at 758-4439 or cgaiser@dailyinterlake.com

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