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Whitefish council denies fee extension for Alta Views

by Heidi Desch
Whitefish Pilot | July 31, 2020 1:00 AM

The Whitefish City Council last week rejected a request for a one-year extension for the Alta Views subdivision to pay a required fee in lieu of affordable housing.

Councilor Frank Sweeney said the city has set a precedent that once buildings are constructed developers must provide the fees required.

“Once the impact is felt by the community requiring affordable housing related to that project, then the payment should be made,” he said.

In April 2019 the council approved a plan that required Alta Views to pay $498,000 in two installments to the city. The developer made the first payment in 2019, but with the second due at the end of the month, the developer sent a letter to the city asking to delay payment for another year.

Mark Panissidi is developing the 166-lot townhouse housing development off JP Road.

Attorney Jay Johnson wrote a letter to the council on behalf of Alta Views, saying the project does not currently have the funds to make the payment requesting an extension.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both construction and sales in the Alta Views subdivision slowed dramatically in the first half of 2020,” he said.

The city has committed the funds from the Alta Views fee for use by the Whitefish Housing Authority to develop an affordable housing project on the snow lot.

City Manager Dana Smith advised the council against accepting an extension out to next July because the money will likely be needed for the snow lot before the end of this year.

In answering a question about what would happen if Alta Views refused to pay the fee, City Attorney Angela Jacobs said the city would likely be forced to sue the developer.

“It would likely be in court for a couple of years before we would get the money,” she said.

Council said it might entertain a payment schedule rather than requiring one lump sum now, but the developer would need to return with a new proposal. Some council members also suggested that interest on the amount would be appropriate if an extension is ultimately granted.

Councilor Andy Feury noted the city has been stringent in its requirement to pay the fee-in-lieu of affordable housing.

“They can come back with some other suggestion, but one more year without another payment is not an option,” Feury said. “It’s not our job to come up with a proposal.”

As part of the 2018 agreement approving the Alta Views, the developer agreed to produce 10 affordable deed-restricted units. However, later that agreement was changed to provide payment of the fee instead of the units, as agreed upon by the Whitefish Housing Authority, which said the cash would make more sense for the city.