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Subdivision approved near Grouse Mountain park

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | January 13, 2022 12:00 AM

WHITEFISH — A 56-unit residential subdivision planned off Fairway Drive near the Grouse Mountain soccer fields was recently approved by Whitefish City Council.

A long discussion with several members of the public speaking during the meeting focused on concerns over pedestrian safety and increased traffic that would come with the added residential units.

Prior to voting on the project, Council approved a friendly amendment that would require the developers to alter the placement of the proposed internal road that loops through the subdivision so it would not interfere with Grouse Mountain Estates, a neighboring residential area. With the amendment, Council granted Little Bear Developments No. 2 LLC the go-ahead to develop the vacant land on a 3-1 vote with Councilor Steve Qunell in opposition.

In the proposal by Little Bear Developments for a preliminary plat to develop the just over 7-acre parcel, 20 total lots with blended residential development are planned. That is to include 10 single-family or duplex lots, eight townhouse sublots in one building and two lots for condominium development with a maximum of four units on one condo lot and 25 units on the other — totaling 56 new residential units.

The property is zoned WRR-2 which is a medium density resort residential that would allow for units to potentially be used as short-term rentals.

According to the developer it was specifically designed so the lower density portions of the project would be located along the south side closer to the neighboring single-family homes; the higher density portions are to the northern part of the property closer to the highway and Grouse Mountain Lodge. This strategy attempts to blend the new development into the existing neighborhood.

The preliminary plat also includes a new internal road that would loop through the property and connect to Fairway Drive in two locations.

Several neighbors in the residential communities of the Grouse Mountain area have stated concerns with the loss of trees and open space, increased traffic and the impact of traffic on the privately maintained roads, and concerns over the density of the project, according to the city planning staff report.

When the Whitefish Planning Board met to discuss the project in November, the final vote was a draw and thus the board was unable to give a recommendation to council. City planning staff has recommended approval, subject to 18 conditions, all along.

During the city council meeting on Jan. 3, several members of the public, as well as the developer, spoke regarding the project.

Little Bear Development Project Manager Daniel Wright told council in the meeting that they have planned the project to be significantly less dense than the zoning allows for as their planned development will be around eight dwelling units per acre versus the 10 units per acre allowed in the resort residential zoning.

He added that although he realizes the community would like to see affordable housing units, the company is unable to do that with this project.

“Based on the financial limitations on the scale of this project we are unable to provide deed-restricted affordable housing,” Wright said. “We realize that although this is no longer a requirement, it is of huge importance to the community and therefore important to us.”

Rather than deed-restrict a portion of this subdivision, Little Bear is pledging to donate $100,000 to the Whitefish Housing Authority and also donate time and expertise in helping develop the Alpenglow Apartments phase two.

One of the biggest concerns brought up at the meeting by Karen Hill with the Grouse Mountain Homeowners Association was regarding the south end of the new internal road. Where it is proposed to meet Fairway Drive interferes with a large, elaborate structure that announces the entrance into the private community of Grouse Mountain. Hill said the structure is important to the community character and aesthetics, and also has power and water running to it.

She asked council to consider requiring the developer to move the planned road at least 35 feet to the north where it would meet Fairway Drive before the entrance to their community.

“Our reasons for wanting this change are fourfold — aesthetics and community character, traffic flow, liability, protection of property values and most importantly protection of our vested rights to maintain privacy and exclude traffic from our roads,” she said.

Hill said because of concerns with the increased traffic and safety for the residents, Grouse Mountain Estates plans to install a gate at the entrance to their neighborhood if the Little Bear subdivision were to be approved. Moving the proposed road would allow them to use the electricity already wired in that structure for the new gate.

Another resident in the Grouse Mountain neighborhood, Ian Hudson, also spoke to the traffic and safety issues the new development would have on his community. With narrow streets, no sidewalks and Fairway Drive currently a through street that bypasses downtown Whitefish, Hudson was concerned about children’s safety in the neighborhood.

“I am part of the new families moving into this neighborhood…” he told council. “And the kids are coming up like popcorn.”

Councilor Qunell said he believed the proposed subdivision would worsen a safety hazard that is already an issue and developments like this are forcing change in the community.

“We don’t have gated communities in Whitefish but now we’re going to have one,” he said. “And it’s their right to do it and I applaud them for doing it because putting 56 short-term rentals right there is going to cause a traffic issue.”

He added that this proposal creates a problem because the city’s infrastructure is not capable of accommodating this type of development in this location right now.

Councilor Frank Sweeney was also concerned about the tree preservation plan the developer is required to submit.

The 7-acre lot is heavily treed and is in its natural state. The developer said they had the trees surveyed and the planned plots were drawn in a way that would preserve the largest trees.

“We’ve been to this party how many times now, where we get a preservation plan and then it’s completely ignored,” Sweeney said.

A tree preservation plan is part of the added conditions upon approval and city staff assures multiple departments will be overseeing the plan submitted by the developer.

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