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Whitefish eyes city property for affordable housing

Daily Inter Lake | November 19, 2021 12:00 AM

The city of Whitefish is taking the beginning steps to prepare a chunk of its own property on Monegan Road as a site for a future affordable workforce housing development.

The city owns 88 acres, which currently houses the city parks shop and wastewater plant, on the eastern edge of town, sandwiched between Monegan and the Whitefish River. A site plan for the property reviewed by the City Council in 2019 designated several future uses for the property, including designating some of the property for residential use.

The council recently directed city staff to move forward with the necessary steps that could lead to a housing project. The city has targeted about 8 acres in the northwest corner of the property to the west of the parks shop that could be developed for affordable housing.

City Manager Dana Smith said during conversations with the consultants who created the city’s Strategic Housing Plan it was suggested the best way to address the workforce housing crisis would be to move forward with whatever it takes to create deed-restricted affordable units for the community. The Whitefish Housing Authority also reached out to the city to inquire about available land, she noted.

“As we have seen over the past few months, there are many individuals in our community that see the need for affordable housing and are willing to donate significant funds to another project,” she said. “There is no question that the high land values in Whitefish make it difficult for affordable housing projects to be financially viable.”

Katie Williams, a board member with the housing authority, said land that is suitable for an affordable housing project is difficult to come by and the city property would be ideal for creating affordable workforce housing.

“The Whitefish Housing Authority has been working with the Whitefish Community Foundation to identify donors to identify and bring forward a large workforce housing development,” she said. “We’ve been working to identify potential parcels of development and the 8 acres owned by the city has been identified as a possible solution. We have identified that land that is not too expensive, able to receive the needed infrastructure and can be properly zoned is hard to come by, and the land on Monegan Road can potentially check all of these boxes.”

THE CITY has to survey and create a site plan for the property, subdivide the property, do a growth policy update and rezone the property to residential. Some of those steps would go before the Planning Board and City Council for public hearings and votes before potentially being approved.

“This is the only city property that has the ability for the density that would be needed for affordable housing,” she added. “It also seems like a location that makes sense and would leave enough room for expansion the city would need for its operations on the remainder of the property.”

Smith said if the steps are successfully completed, the property could be donated to the Whitefish Housing Authority with a contract to develop it as affordable housing.

“The funding of the actual development would be through donations and possible grants,” Smith said.

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