Whitefish begins long-anticipated plan for 93

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Cars drive along Highway 93 South in Whitefish. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

After sitting on the docket for more than a decade, the city of Whitefish is taking the public’s pulse on the future of the Highway 93 South corridor.

The city invited community members to an open house last Wednesday at National Parks Realty on Spokane Avenue, where different aspects of the corridor were presented by city planning staff. Concerns and questions were also taken down.

The corridor plan will focus on future land use for Highway 93 South from Sixth Street to Blanchard Lake Road south of Montana 40. The corridor is primarily zoned secondary business with some mixed-use and residential land uses included.

City Long Range Planner Hilary Lindh said a few main themes stick out when she looks at the corridor.

“I think there’s a couple main concerns,” Lindh said. “People have concerns with how the corridor looks, so driving into Whitefish — does it look like everywhere else in the country with commercial strip type stuff or is it unique and does it look like a special place? People are also thinking about keeping some open space and adding a median that would restrict left turn lanes. Traffic congestion is the other big thing — how easy and safe it is to drive through the corridor?”

“Those are all things that we’re going to have to work through during the planning process,” she noted.

On one map of the corridor, visitors were asked to leave sticky notes with concerns or ideas pertaining to the area.

At the south end of the corridor, folks suggested lowering the speed limit prior to reaching the Montana 40 intersection or helping land owners get city services through annexation.

People also suggested adding a roundabout to the area off JP Road and the west side of Highway 93 South. Someone also voiced concerns about noise congestion in the area, writing “Do we need to develop every speck of land between Montana 40 [and downtown]?”

Farther north in the corridor, visitors wanted to see roundabouts at the intersection of 13th Street and Baker Avenue, and also worried about the dangers of the so-called “suicide” or middle turn lane.

Planning and Building Director Dave Taylor said a lot of the issues they’re looking at boil down to traffic.

“Obviously traffic is a concern — where future streetlights might occur, how at some of the new developments like Whitefish Crossing it’s very difficult to make a left turn onto the highway,” he said. “We’ll talk about things like taking the suicide lane out of Highway 93 and maybe putting in a landscaped median in there, breaking up some of the large commercial strip areas, things like that. Just kind of getting people thinking about things like that and how they want to develop it.”

Taylor said the corridor has been a high-priority item since the city adopted its master plan in 2007.

However, the city couldn’t get Flathead County Commissioners on board for a joint plan, so the project fell behind while other priorities like Highway 93 West and Wisconsin Avenue came to the forefront.

“This one was kind of identified as the first [priority] but because we really couldn’t get cooperation, it’s hard to plan unless all the different regional decision makers are all on board with the plan,” Taylor said. “Nevertheless, we’re going to press on and do what we can within city limits and maybe plan a little bit outside that corridor as people annex in, obviously if people want water and sewer [services] that means they have to play by the city’s rules as they develop.”

Right now the city is just in the earliest stages of planning, Taylor says, gathering public input and identifying key issues.

Another open house is planned for December, and a follow-up meeting in the spring is set to bring together a lot of the ideas discussed at the open houses.

Lindh said the hard part will be balancing the opposing desires of different community members’ viewpoints.

“There are a lot of pros and cons on all these issues, so if we’re thinking about, ‘Do we want to extend services further south on the highway?’ Well, if we do then we annex into the city and we have a little more control on how that develops, but there might be more development. Or ‘Do we not annex?’ and what does that leave those property owners with the ability to do?” she said. “There’s a bunch of different trade offs on all of these things that need to be considered. For sure not everyone will be happy with everything, but we have to look at what the community as a whole wants to see in the future.”

For more information, visit the city of Whitefish website at www.cityofwhitefish.org. Project specific information can be found by clicking on “Planning and Building” and selecting “Long Range Planning.”

Comments concerning the project may be mailed to: Hilary Lindh, City of Whitefish, Planning & Building, P.O. Box 158, Whitefish, MT 59937. Comments may also be submitted by email to hlindh@cityofwhitefish.org. Participants attending the public open house are welcome to submit comments at that time.

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