City backs off proposal to add area to south

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Whitefish for now has set aside adding an area south of Montana 40 to its extension of services plan.

A draft update to the city extension of services plan now shows only others areas that are proposed to be added to the city's urban growth boundary map as part of the plan.

Planning Director Dave Taylor told Council during a work session last week that his department decided to remove the section along U.S. Highway 93 South of the Montana 40 junction.

“We thought the plan would go through the process a little faster without that controversial piece,” Taylor said. “We can add that later if we need to.”

Past city councils have made policy statements against extending city services south of the Montana 40 junction. However, an earlier version of the draft plan called for adding the potential to extend services south to Blanchard Lake Road.

The idea quickly drew criticism from a few folks who opposed the idea of encouraging growth of the city to the south, rather suggesting growth should take place to the east and west.

The city adopted its extension of services plan in 2009. The plan must establish at least a five-year urban growth boundary based on the availability of water, sewer, storm drainage, solid waste disposal, streets, police protection and fire protection. The urban growth boundary map is intended to reflect growth around the city that is likely to occur.

City Long Range Planner Hilary Lindh said the plan and map looks at what is likely to develop in the next 10 years.

“It looks at whether growth is likely in an area by considering economic conditions, population trends, proximity to existing services, zoning and what we know about land ownership,” she said.

The draft plan urban growth boundary now proposes to add areas bordering the Big Mountain Sewer District to allow infill and efficient annexation adjacent to areas with existing services, addition of Reservoir Road area where a water main already is installed and to encompass city water reservoir and water main south to Texas Avenue, addition of residential area on the south side of Beaver Bay on Whitefish Lake to encourage connection to city sewer as aging septic systems fail and the addition of small private parcel west of Lion Mountain Loop Road.

Lindh said the city will likely examine in more detail the southern portion of the city as it works on the Highway 93 South corridor plan.

“There's a lot more opportunity to look into this with the upcoming 93 South plan,” she said. “That will give us a lot more about how the public would like to see that area.”

The city's growth policy calls for the creation of the corridor plan that would address commercial growth and noted that “commercial growth will continue to be discouraged” in that area. The extension of services plan could be amended in the future to include that area south of Montana 40, if necessary, at a later date, she noted.

Flathead County Commissioners last fall adopted a corridor plan and overlay zone for properties south of Whitefish on Highway 93. The move rezoned about 490 acres along the highway and placed an overlay zone on 1.5 miles of the highway corridor south of the city. The change has been noted as having the potential to open the gateway for more commercial development along the corridor.

Lindh noted that there are pros and cons to including the area in the extension of services of plan.

“When a developer does apply for annexation to get services that does give the city some opportunity to review [conditional use permits] and architectural review to determine how development occurs,” she said. “But there are other uses by right that wouldn't need a permit and we wouldn't have the opportunity to review them.”

She noted current development by right is currently limited by the size of septic drain fields, but once services are extended the city boundary could extend south “rapidly.” For example, she said a hotel is a permitted use by right in the secondary business zoning district, but would need to accommodate the needs of many people and therefore would be unlikely to be built without city services.

The planning department is not recommending changes to the eastern boundary of the extension of services plan. There is already substantial areas between the city limits and the eastern urban growth boundary that have not been developed — the distance between the two boundaries ranges from between .35 miles at the end of Denver Street on the north end of town to 1 mile form JP Road out to Monegan Road and Missy Lane on the southern end of town, and further south there are several large parcel that could be developed further in an area averaging a half-mile wide. For efficiency in delivering city services and to promote clustered development over sprawl those areas should be developed further, Lindh notes.

“There is a lot of areas we want to infill before we want to expand out further,” she said.

City Council is set to hold a public hearing on the matter on March 19.

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