Kalispell OKs urban renewal plan

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

The Kalispell City Council unanimously approved the Downtown Kalispell Urban Renewal Plan on Monday, setting the stage for the creation of a tax-increment finance district for the heart of the city.

The amendment to the city’s Growth Policy aims to redesign Main Street to lower traffic impacts, widen sidewalks, increase parking through the building of a parking garage and changes to surface lots, and upgrade the city water infrastructure.

“I’m very excited to see it going forward,” Kalispell Mayor Mark Johnson said.

Pam Carbonari, Kalispell Downtown Association coordinator, provided the only public comment on the agenda item, encouraging council members to support the plan. Her survey of downtown property owners determined the plan addressed their major concerns — lighter traffic on Main Street, more parking and the repair of the water main. There is currently not enough water pressure to allow for full use of the upper floors of many historic buildings downtown.

“These are expensive processes,” Carbonari said. “The creation of the urban renewal district will allow for funds to accomplish these large infrastructure changes.”

The next step is council approval of a tax increment finance district to fund the building and renovation projects. Creation of a tax-increment district will allow the city to use tax revenue for public infrastructure projects. It is not a property tax, but “captures” the additional taxes from the district properties as they increase in value.

Carbonari said most of the property owners she talked with are not concerned about negative effects on their businesses while the projects are underway.

“I don’t think it will be disruptive,” she said. “For sidewalks it’s not taking them out, just adding width. Repairing the water main won’t shut down traffic on 93, though they may have to close a lane while infrastructure is put into place. They shouldn’t impede people’s ability to get downtown.

“I believe the property owners are excited about downtown improvements and the direction. It’s really important that we communicate with them and we know their voices have been heard,” she said.

The urban renewal plan generated no conversation at the council meeting, but there was a discussion involving the first reading of an ordinance for the extension of the Westside Neighborhood Parking Management Zone. The extension adds the 700 block of Sixth Avenue West to the zone. It was created in 2015 and features restrictions necessary to control parking near Flathead High School.

The Planning Department presentation was given with the expectation that the extension would be put into place at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year.

Homeowner Matthew Brake, who headed up the request for the extension, said parking challenges had been gradually building on his street since the management zone was implemented on the surrounding blocks. He requested that the amendment be acted upon as soon as possible.

“We would like to see this done in an expeditious manner,” he said. “My heart sank when I heard the proposal for the next school year.”

He said problems include students sitting in running vehicles on the street, or showing up as early as 7:15 a.m. and loitering on the block. Student vehicles on the street have also forced homeowners to park blocks away from their properties during school days.

In response to Brake’s testimony, the ordinance was amended to be enacted 30 days after passage rather than waiting until the next school year.

The council also approved a conditional-use permit requested by Ralph and Cheryl Turley for an auto-repair business at 749 Center St.

Reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4438 or hgaiser@dailyinterlake.com.

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