Developer Mark Panissidi converts a long-dormant subdivision into an affordable townhome development

Story by Myers Reece | Photography by Hunter D’Antuono

When Mark Panissidi began tossing around the idea of reviving a Whitefish condominium subdivision that had sat dormant for a decade and converting it into an affordable townhome project, which would require a densely complex approval process, acquaintances in the industry told him it was “crazy,” if not impossible.

To start, Panissidi had to get the owners of all 29 existing condos to agree to convert their properties into townhomes, which had legal, financial and brick-and-mortar ramifications. The subdivision, located off JP Road near North Valley Hospital and formerly known as The Views and Deer Creek, broke ground prior to the recession but came to a halt when the downturn took hold in 2008, leaving behind 29 condos and infrastructure such as a sewer system along with a bevy of unrealized ambitions.

Panissidi spent many months speaking with the condo owners and building relationships until he finally got them all onboard, which paved the way for green-lighting the project, although that was only the beginning of the conversion journey. In addition to navigating the approval process through the city and state, as well as banks, there were numerous complexities involved with reconfiguring the lots and layout, among other considerations, including refinancing the condo owners’ loans.

“It’s basically impossible,” Panissidi said. “I would have said it was impossible, but it happened. Here it is.”

The end result of the “legal and logistical nightmare” is Alta Views, a townhome development currently under construction with prices beginning at $289,000 and up. Mike Anderson with National Parks Realty, the lead broker along with Jen Dolan on the project, said the current housing inventory in Whitefish, a town enduring an affordable-housing crisis, offers essentially nothing in the $300,000 to $350,000 range.

“Even then, you’ll have to lift the house (to work on the) foundation and put in a lot of other work,” Anderson said. “You’ll have another $100,000 just to live in it.”

“That’s what we wanted to do: create affordable homes,” he continued. “Keep the people in the workforce, keep the younger people in town, and give them a place to live.”

Panissidi added: “It’s the most affordable new home project here in many, many years.”

Affordability is the reason Panissidi went to such great lengths to convert the development into townhomes. In response to the recession, banks tightened lending regulations on condominiums, requiring up to a 30 percent down payments. But townhomes, where the homeowner owns both the house and dirt it sits on, as opposed to condo associations owning the land, can be purchased with nothing down.

“You only own the airspace in a condo, everything inside the walls,” said Panissidi, who knows condos well after decades of building them in San Diego before relocating to the Flathead Valley.

At Alta Views, homebuyers can secure mortgages for 0, 3 or 5 percent down. Panissidi said when he was first considering the project, he conducted a study with 30 potential buyers in that price range and found only one could afford even half of a 30 percent down payment. A full down payment for a $300,000 condo would be $90,000.

“When I did that study, I knew I had to get the state and city to allow me to convert this to townhomes,” Panissidi said.

Alta Views is one of several attempts in recent years to address the affordable-housing crisis in Whitefish. Earlier this year, the Whitefish City Council approved a 38-unit affordable-housing apartment complex proposed by Homeword and the Whitefish Housing Authority, as well as the 234-unit Riverbank Residences apartment complex. Other affordable-housing projects include developer Jerry Dunker’s 58-unit Trail View subdivision.

Pia Henningson, who moved into her new Alta Views townhome in May, said she was drawn to the development because of both its affordability and bang-for-the-buck quality after fruitlessly scouring the Whitefish market.

“The price for what I have is just awesome,” she said. “I’m very happy here.”

The townhomes range in size from 1,108 to 1,346 square feet, depending whether the unit has a loft. They have two bedrooms and two bathrooms, as well as a floor plan that emphasizes high ceilings and lots of natural light through big windows, making the homes feel roomier. The units include oversized two-car garages with storage room.

Plans call for building 137 new townhomes in addition to the existing 29 condos that were retrofitted into townhomes. Crews broke ground last year, and Panissidi expected 26 new units to be fully complete by the start of July and construction to continue at its current vigorous pace.

The project includes ample green-space areas, which will be outfitted with barbecues and picnic tables, as well as walking trails. A clubhouse will feature Jacuzzis, a gym with a weight room, a pool table and a conference room.

Panissidi said landscape architect Bruce Boody “worked his magic” to reformulate the layout to include such a large number of townhomes without crowding while accommodating smartly designed open spaces and outdoor accouterments.

Boody is one of numerous people Panissidi praised for making his “crazy idea” a reality, for both the project at large and the two model homes that have been critical showpieces. The list includes Glacier Bank, architect Ken Huff, Wright’s Furniture, Budget Blinds, WGM Group, Fidelity National Title and Hammerquist Casalegno, the general contractor leading construction.

“It’s just an incredible team to work with,” Panissidi said. “We’re basically a one-stop shop.”

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