Increased review proposed for certain businesses

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The Whitefish Planning Board on Thursday will consider a code amendment that would require hotels and motels and automotive service stations with convenience stores to obtain a conditional use permit to operate in the secondary business district.

The board will also consider a change that would require buildings over 10,000 square feet in the same zoning district to obtain a CUP. Currently, the trigger for such permits is 15,000 square feet.

The planning board will hold a public hearing on the issue on Thursday, Nov. 21. The board meets at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

City Council recently directed city planning staff to amend the zoning code to make the proposed changes.

The change would move hotels and motels and service stations with convenience stores from the permitted uses to the conditional uses in the WB-2 district.

This would provide “additional opportunity to review these uses for character and aesthetic impacts as well as impacts to available municipal services and traffic,” according Planning Director Dave Taylor’s report to planning board.

The WB-2 zoning district is generally located along U.S. Highway 93 and is intended for retails and services that need large parking, display or storage areas and depend upon proximity to the highway.

Taylor says that requiring a CUP for hotels and motels is justified due to specific impacts that may necessitate additional review, such as a large number of rooms putting pressure on city services. Commercial hotels also require large areas for building footprints and parking lots, which can take up valuable property that could be used for other uses, he notes.

Service stations with convenience stores, he points out, create traffic impacts, add light pollution and have large amounts of paved surface requiring review.

Review of new buildings or expansion of an existing building to over 10,000 feet would require a CUP, if the proposed change is approved.

Taylor says review of large buildings is important for planning board and City Council to “better dictate how new development meets the goals and objectives of the city and any adopted long-range plans.”

Some of the buildings with the largest square footage in the WB-2 zone includes The Wave at 43,482 square feet; Safeway at 52,578 feet; and the Pin and Cue at 20,924.

Taylor does note that a disadvantage of the proposed further review for these protects is the concern that it may be a disincentive for some new businesses to locate in Whitefish.

“Requiring commercial uses to go through a public process like a CUP for approval can create uncertainty and time delays, and may sometimes be an impediment to development, redevelopment, and investment here, especially if there are nearby communities like Columbia Falls with available property where they would just need a building permit,” Taylor said.

The planing board will also consider a change related to CUP to increase the public notice from 150 feet to 300 feet and require posting of a sign on the property.

Council directed planning staff to make changes to noticing requirements. The changes would require notice to all adjacent property owners within 300 feet of the property applying for the CUP. A notice would also be placed on the property at least 15 working days prior to the public hearing. Notice would still be required to be published in the newspaper.

Montana law doesn’t have requirements for CUP notifications.

Flathead County, Kalispell and Columbia Falls all send a notice to neighbors located 150 feet from the subject property, and require a notice in the paper. None of those jurisdictions require on-site signage.

Planning staff notes that the change would align requirements for what was enacted with the administrative CUP process that was implemented with the Legacy Homes program.

Also, on the planning board agenda is a request by Jason Evans for a conditional use permit to construct an accessory apartment at 411 Somers Ave.

All of the items on the planning board agenda are scheduled go before City Council on Dec. 2.

To view the planning board packet, visit the city’s website at https://tinyurl.com/sd84sqb

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