City planning board OK's new mixed use development on Fourth Avenue

by TERESA BYRD
Staff Writer | October 15, 2020 12:50 AM

The Columbia Falls City-County Planning Board on Tuesday recommended for approval to the city council an application by Nitopi Family Trust requesting a mixed use planned unit development on a half-acre vacant lot just north of the new Whitefish Credit Union.

The Trust plans to build two three-story buildings, one on the west end of the lot and one on the east, that would bookend a 22-vehicle parking lot in the middle.

The buildings would house a mixture of nine residential units and three commercial spaces.

The east building would have three commercial spaces on the ground floor topped by three taller two-story residential units, all facing Fourth Avenue West, the main thoroughfare leading to Glacier Gateway Elementary.

Bruce Lutz of WGM Group, the engineering firm out of Kalispell representing the applicant, expressed a sort of small-town-friendly vision when discussing the layout and the applicant’s projections of how the commercial spaces may be used.

“They could be an office, they could be a small medical establishment, maybe even a barbershop, just kind of a neighborhood idea where, actually, the owner could own the shop below and the residence above, kind of an old fashioned idea but one that has viability over there,” Lutz told the board.

The west building would mimic the east building’s layout but without the commercial space; all units would be residential.

The half-acre lot, now a grassy expanse with several trees, is one of the last vacant lots within the city, according to board member Mike Shepard. The site once contained an upholstery shop run out of an old house that was torn down nearly 15 years ago.

The development’s mixed use plan uniquely fits the property which is zoned CB-2, a general business zone, but is bordered to the west, north and northeast by residential units.

The staff report, presented by planner Eric Mulcahy, found that the requested planned unit met the city’s growth policy pending 13 additional conditions, including providing detailed landscaping and engineered stormwater drainage plans, and recommended the application for approval to the city council.

The quorum of board members, with Claudette Byrd-Rinck, Sam Kavanagh, Kurt Nelson, Mike Shepard and Patti Singer present, unanimously voted in support of the staff report’s findings. The application will go before the city council Nov. 2.

Kavanagh summed up the planning board’s sentiments in a statement during board discussion.

“I feel like this is a well-suited project for that piece of property and I like the idea of bringing a little positive business exposure to Fourth Avenue on that side,” he said. “I’m appreciative that we’re seeing a project of this mixed used status there.”

In other business, the board discussed the Columbia Falls Urban Area Transportation Plan and its upcoming public listening sessions occurring later this week. The sessions will be held at 3 and 6 p.m. at the City Fire Hall on Thursday, October 15 and are the first phase in a 12 month process to draft a 20 year plan to address transportation needs for the city. The board heartily hopes for and encourages public involvement and input in the planning process.