Council delays vote on Monegan Road affordable housing project

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A map shows a proposed 58-lot subdivision of affordable housing on Monegan Road in Whitefish. (Rendering provided)

Whitefish City Council last week chose to delay a decision on a 58-lot affordable housing project on Monegan Road.

After hearing concerns from neighbors about increased traffic and high groundwater issues that could be exacerbated by the Trail View subdivision, Council voted to table the issue until May 21, saying it needed more information before making a decision.

“I would like to take the opportunity to look at how we might mitigate some of the concerns for drainage and traffic,” Councilor Frank Sweeney said. “Also keeping in mind that they could develop that property by right with 32 units anyway.”

The property is currently vacant, but developers are seeking a preliminary plat and planned unit development for the site.

The proposed development, located near the intersection of Monegan and Voerman roads, would provide 100 percent of the project as affordable — with 50 percent of the homes with traditional deed restriction based on income and 50 percent of the homes for local workers and not income restricted.

Stephen Flink, with Bryant Flink Architecture and Design, is providing technical assistance for the project.

“All 58 units are designed to be workforce housing,” he said. “We want to create single-family residences because it fits in with the character of the adjacent neighborhood.”

He said the location of the property with proximity to the schools, North Valley Hospital and city services make it ideal for this type of development.

While many residents, during public comment, said they support affordable housing in Whitefish, they disagreed that the property is the best location for it. Many noted that a high volume of vehicles already travel through the nearby Creekwood subdivision and connected neighborhoods to access Whitefish Schools.

Bill Kahle said he supports affordable housing and put the onus on the city for finding solutions to solve issues around traffic congestion.

“Affordable housing is critical to keeping the hometown feel of Whitefish and without it we may be losing multi-generational families,” he said. “The city needs to solve this problem. We’re at a critical point here where the land is transitioning from agriculture and the transportation infrastructure needs to be in place.”

Kahle said the city “punted” on creating a north-south connector road from Monegan Road north connecting with East Seventh Street.

City Engineer Karin Hilding said an north-south connector is part of the city’s transportation plan, but would likely only be possible with the development of property to the east of Creekwood.

“The connection from Monegan and Voerman to Seventh is dependent on the development of that property,” she said. “We don’t have right-of-way there.”

The city’s transportation plan also calls for a connection between Voerman Road east to 13th Street East. However, since that route would require crossing the Whitefish River and Cow Creek it has been noted as likely cost prohibitive to construct. It could cost $16 million to construct a bridge there, the city has estimated.

Flink did note an error in the city planning report regarding traffic. He said the traffic impact study shows that the project will generate an average of 684 vehicle trips per five-day week rather than the 684 daily trips that was listed. He noted that would work out to 137 daily vehicle trips at full build-out over a three-year period.

No improvements are planned to Monegan Road as the city is planning improvements to the sewer treatment plant to the south and plans to reconstruct Monegan as part of that project. Trail View is expected to pay its share of those improvements and dedicate 10-feet of right-of-way along Monegan, which is currently at a sub-standard width of 40 feet.

Brad Knuth, who owns the property to the west of the proposed development, said while he previously had concerns about the Trail View subdivision impacting his property with groundwater, the developer has addressed his concerns.

However, he said, the area has greater drainage issues happening that are impacting his property.

He pointed to the city’s wastewater treatment plant to the south as one of the causes of issues by increasing the groundwater on his property.

“There has been a water problem out there for years,” he said. “In the early 1960s when the sewer lagoons went in that blocked the drainage. The city created a drainage issue when they built the treatment lagoons and it’s never been fixed.”

Noting he has lived in the neighborhood for 70 years, he said, when he was a child the property where the sewer treatment plant is now located was a hay field and it drained into the Whitefish River.

“I can’t handle anymore water,” he said. “With the subdivisions to the north and west, I have 19 homes directly or indirectly pumping water onto my property. I can handle the spring runoff, but the continually pumping of basements and crawlspaces is keeping my property wet.”

Trail View is proposed to be developed in three phases starting with the north 13 lots, then the central 30 lots and finally the southerly 15 lots. The developer is proposing two- and three-story homes ranging from 900 to 1,300 square feet in clusters of 10 homes surrounding open spaces.

A planned unit development is intended to encourage flexible land use development while allowing for a deviation to development standards in exchange for community benefit.

The developer is proposing reduced side and rear yard setbacks, reduced lot widths of 37-feet rather than the standard 60-feet, and reduced lot size of 2,478 square feet rather than the standard 10,000 square feet.

For open space, the project would go above what is required with a dedication to the city of 1.56 acres to the north end of the development and a 20-foot trail easement along the western boundary that would connect a public trail to the city’s Rocksund Trail. The developer is asking that the city pay for paving that trail.

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