Seeking approval of a new development can often pit neighbors against developers and the decision maker, in this case the Whitefish City Council, can get caught in the challenging position of trying to balance competing interests. Land use decisions are rarely black and white, but when they include the principle of neighborliness, such decisions often become fairer and thus easier for all to find common ground on.
The Whitefish City Council on Jan. 2 as part of its consent agenda will take a second vote on the proposed zoning and development plans for 14.06 acres, an area about half size of the current Whitefish downtown area, where the former Idaho Timber mill operated for years, just across the Whitefish River from downtown Whitefish. What’s proposed is to redevelop the site from a heavy industrial use to include professional offices, a large new hotel, restaurants, limited retail, light manufacturing, condos, artisan workshop spaces, a micro brewery, a river front public park, and a bike and pedestrian trail system along the river.
For a site that has sat empty for years these changes will bring much more intense use to the neighborhoods around this site with higher traffic, increased lighting, new uses and taller buildings that without architectural conditions could stand out like sore thumbs. So we support the City Council’s recent decision to condition this development to require local architecture and non-franchised type uses to better ensure this development is in keeping with the traditional neighborhood character.
Of additional neighborhood concern, however, are unregulated outdoor parties, noise, and overflow parking on neighborhood streets. This is where the city still needs to step up and apply the principle of neighborliness and fairness to all parties to this development.
To be blunt and to the point, it’s time for the city of Whitefish to not just “give away city right of way and easements” as a neighborly accommodation, but to in return require that Ryan Zinke and his wife who are the managing chairs of the adjoining private park known as the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park become partners with the city in ensuring that noise, loud public or private parties and overflow parking do not become an on-going issue in this neighborhood.
At issue is the fact that the adjoining Peace Park is outside of the city limits in the county and so is not subject to city regulations and complaints that can require that private or public parties and events at the Peace Park limit noise and overflow parking that have been big issues with neighbors over the years. Not only has the city given the Peace Park an easement for use of adjoining city land for a mere $1 per year, but now with this proposed new development, the city is giving the Peace Park primary access through this development to Karrow Avenue and Second Street. This is a huge value with no requirement that in exchange for this that the Peace Park become part of the city and comply with city rules, so that the park does not become an unregulated party spot and a neighborhood blight.
As long time residents and adjoining property owners to this development we ask that the city insist on getting some additional public benefits for the private benefits of city land and city easements this development proposal gives the Zinke family and the Great Northern Peace Park. Conditions need to be added to the requested approval of this development that require at the very least a waiver of annexation from the Great Northern Peace Park and an agreement to comply with city standards for event permits and noise limits. The city needs to also include conditions that a locked gate between the Peace Park and Murray Avenue will be managed by the city and that access and overflow parking for events at the Peace Park will not be allowed at this point. Additionally, the city needs to be a full party to any new road and parking easement agreement that allows for regular and emergency traffic between the Peace Park and through the new development at the former Idaho Timber site, as part of the requested zoning approval for this site.
Finally, the traffic at Karrow Avenue and West Second Street has been projected to be over 5,000 trips per day at the time of full build-out, and this is without event traffic from the Peace Park being considered. Whitefish city staff stated that a traffic light would then be required in the future, but until the matter is resolved, a pedestrian signal light at Karrow Avenue and Highway 93 West needs to be a condition of 95 Karrow LLC’s plans to develop this property.
John and Sandra Kuffel and Gail Shay Linne are residents of Murray Avenue.