Last week’s edition of the Whitefish Pilot featured coverage of the Whitefish Planning Board’s unanimous denial, at its July 19 meeting, of a request of the Firebrand Hotel for a rezoning of 224 Kalispell Avenue from WR-4 to WB-3/SC. This decision was purely advisory and the City Council has the power to do just the opposite. I am writing to inform Whitefish citizens of the effect that a rezoning of this property would have not only on Kalispell Avenue, but also the neighborhood and the town itself. This is not just about one lot. I encourage citizens of Whitefish to attend the City Council meeting on Aug. 6 at 7:10 p.m. to make their views known.
The lot at 224 Kalispell Ave., and the two lots just south, are zoned residential (WR-4). They are the only portion of Block 46 that was excluded from Council’s approval of the Firebrand Hotel. The hotel did not seek rezoning of these lots at that time, assuring that parking would not be an issue.
These houses, then three, but now two, since the owners of the Firebrand Hotel tore down the house on 224 Kalispell Avenue, provide a buffer for the residential neighborhood, both from the new hotel and its parking lot as well as the general noise and traffic on Spokane Avenue.
Readers may remember that a few years ago there was an attempt by the building owner of 307 Spokane Avenue to take one of the lots on Kalipsell Avenue in the next block, between Third and Fourth streets, and turn it into a parking lot. At that time, City Council wisely rejected this proposal as an inappropriate use of a lot in a residential neighborhood. While that attempt was via a conditional use permit, and this is a rezoning, the results would be the same.
Currently, the streets east of the alley running north and south between Spokane Avenue and Kalispell Avenue contain only residential structures, with the exception of schools, public parks and churches. The railroad borders this area on the north and the Whitefish River to the south. To me this is one of the major factors in making Whitefish a special town. It allows citizens who want to live in a “walking community” to have that opportunity. It provides families with children a neighborhood close to all our schools, where children can walk or ride bikes to school. Few towns still have this oasis.
Once the first parking lot is constructed on Kalispell Avenue, there is no legal reason that will prevent any business on Spokane Avenue from purchasing a lot on Kalispell Avenue for a parking lot. Under established legal principles, similar persons cannot be treated differently. It is my belief that the owners of 307 Spokane own multiple lots on Kalispell. The result will be that Kalispell Avenue will be lost as a residential street. When the lots on one side are parking lots, no one will have any interest in living on the other side of the street. The homes will be bought by speculators and used for a variety of uses.
Both the Whitefish growth policy and the downtown master plan reject the use of these lots for parking, and state that we want to preserve the small town feel of Whitefish. If any property on Spokane can use a lot on Kalispell for a parking lot, then we will lose all the small homes (most used as businesses) on Spokane between Sixth and Third. Those properties will all look like 307 Spokane in a short time.
I encourage the citizens, whether you live in the neighborhood or not, who feel this is an important issue to attend the Council meeting and make your feelings known. This is a very important issue for the future of Whitefish.
John Ellis, Jr., Whitefish