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Mountain Gateway hearings continue Thursday

by LYNNETTE HINTZE
Daily Inter Lake | November 17, 2021 12:00 AM

The Whitefish Planning Board on Thursday will continue two public hearings on the proposed Mountain Gateway development at the base of Big Mountain.

After more than four hours of public testimony at its Oct. 21 meeting, the board opted to continue the hearings, and on Thursday will take comments from those who attended the Oct. 21 meeting via Webex and didn’t have an opportunity to speak.

Arim Mountain Gateway LLC is asking for two separate approvals.

First, it is seeking permission to create a planned-unit development to develop a mixed residential/commercial project with 318 residential units — 270 apartments, 24 townhouses and 24 condominiums — north of the intersection of East Lakeshore Drive and Big Mountain Road. The lots are zoned two-family residential, low density multi-family residential and Flathead County two-family residential. The three county lots would be annexed into the city at the time of approval.

Secondly, the developer is asking for a conditional zone change to apply neighborhood commercial zoning to the northeast corner of the intersection of East Lakeshore Drive and Big Mountain Road. The lot is zoned two-family residential.

The Whitefish Planning Office staff continues to recommend approval of both requests.

The Planning Board's recommendation will be forwarded to the Whitefish City Council for final approval on Jan. 18.

Heavy opposition to the proposed mixed-use development has been voiced.

A new nonprofit group called Flathead Families for Responsible Growth formed in response to the project it says will negatively impact water quality, traffic and the small-town way of life in Whitefish.

“Our community has already spoken against Mountain Gateway, with over 3,700 names on a petition, over 400 letters directed to the Planning Board and City Council and with hundreds of people who attended the Oct. 21 Planning Board meeting in person and online,” Carol Atkinson, one of Flathead Families’ organizers, said in a letter to the Daily Inter Lake. “Remember, we are not opposed to growth. We are against irresponsible growth in our community. And we are opposed to this development because it is not a meaningful answer to affordable housing, even though the developers would like you to think so.”

Flathead Families has asserted that the developers’ application for Mountain Gateway is lacking in details, particularly in terms of traffic impacts — including concerns about emergency vehicles having the ability to get in and out — and the adverse effects such a large development could have on nearby Whitefish Lake.

Will MacDonald, one of the developers, told the Inter Lake in September the commercial space would include a small market similar to Markus Foods and potentially a day-care center for working families. About 1.5 acres adjoining the development would be donated to the city for a new fire station. And the developers hope to add a stop for Whitefish's SNOW bus to further alleviate traffic concerns.

MacDonald maintains the project would help address the city's housing crisis. He noted none of the new units would be used as short-term rentals, and said condos can be an economic stepping stone for first-time homebuyers.

IN OTHER business, the Planning Board will consider a request by Little Bear Development No. 2 LLC, for approval of a 20-lot subdivision along Fairway Drive, south of the Grouse Mountain soccer fields.

The city has proposed a number of zoning text amendments that modify short-term rental standards.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at Whitefish City Hall. It will also be available to view and comment via Webex. Instructions can be found on the city’s website.

News editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 406-758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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