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Kalispell city councilor sees signs for hope amid housing crunch

by CARL FOSTER
Daily Inter Lake | January 4, 2024 12:00 AM

Kalispell City Councilor Ryan Hunter told his colleagues Tuesday he saw signs of success in addressing the region’s housing crunch as the body approved a multifamily, mixed-use residential project on Village Loop.

Citing a Dec. 31 Daily Inter Lake article on the Flathead Valley’s housing market, Hunter focused on average home prices in Kalispell as a source of hope. 

“Average home prices in Whitefish and Columbia Falls continued to go up over last year whereas in Kalispell it remained almost steady,” he said. “I think that's potentially a sign that our work is bearing fruit in terms of the approval of more units to provide that supply and stabilize prices.”

Through the third quarter of 2023, Columbia Falls saw the median home price increase to $625,000 from $550,000 in 2022. In Whitefish, the median home price went from $835,000 to $907,000. The median home price in Kalispell, in comparison, increased only $6,000 from the $530,000 it was at in 2022. 

Councilor Kari Gabiel, citing the same newspaper account, pressed city staff on what portion of the housing units under construction would fall into the affordable housing category. Kalispell planning officials said in December that there are roughly 800 residential units under construction in the city.

“I'm wondering who is going to live in all those units,” she said. “We've got how many hundred coming on — and soon. Who is going to live there?”

Jarod Nygren, the city’s planning director, said that likely depended upon who was looking for housing. That could include people moving around the valley as well as Libby or Eureka residents who commute to Flathead County, he said.

“If there is a demand out there … surely there's going to be a place for people to go or move around or however that works out,” he said.

As for how much of the new construction would be considered affordable housing, Nygren said about 160 units coming on line this year in the Junegrass Place and Creekside Commons developments are income-restricted. 

“There will be a number of affordable units hitting the market this year,” he said.

EARLIER IN the evening, Council voted to approve a conditional use permit for Volga Rentals LLC and the construction of four multi-family residential units as part of a mixed-use development located at 63 and 65 Village Loop. The surrounding neighborhood is mostly occupied by small offices. 

Owing to the area’s residential/office zoning, the proposed two-story building with four multi-family units requires Council’s approval. 

The development’s placement, roughly 40 feet from the base of a steep bluff with a history of instability, served as one point of potential concern. Alpine geotechnical surveys, though, determined that the area can be developed. 

Questions arose over the size of the stormwater retention pond as it related to the space allotted for parking, but city staff remained confident in the design and the property owner’s willingness to follow city guidance. Hunter said he appreciated the property’s compact design. 

Mayor Mark Johnson lent his support to the project and it passed Council unanimously. 

COUNCIL ALSO voted on the preliminary plat for Eagle Valley Ranch Phases 4 through 6, containing a total of 138 lots with single family units, apartments and offices, and a commercial lot on 39.8 acres.

The developer is required to reduce noise impact to 60 decibels, either through erecting an 8-foot tall berm or a 2-foot berm supporting a 6-foot sound wall. 

Public concern over traffic in the area prompted city staff to perform traffic impact studies and ultimately request modifications, including an acceleration lane onto U.S. 93, modified signal timing, and a dedicated right turn lane at Rose Crossing.

Hunter asked how many multi-family units Eagle Valley Ranch might bring to the city. Nygren estimated between eight and ten. 

The request was approved unanimously. 

LASTLY, JOHNSON opened the floor for comments from councilors, four of whom were sworn in earlier in the evening. Councilor Chad Graham also was unanimously reelected council president

“Hold onto your hats,” Councilor Sid Daoud quipped. “It’s going to be a political year.” 

During his time to share, Johnson recommended that his colleagues follow the legal battle over State Bill 382 led by the resident group Montanans Against Irresponsible Densification and criticized state lawmakers for failing to approve holding a special session to resolve real estate tax issues. 

Still, it might have been a mixed blessing, he said, “because any time this group gets together, we’re under attack.”

Carl Foster can be reached at cfoster@dailyinterlake.com.