Council approves new mixed-use building on Central

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The former building of Lakestream Fly Shop on Central Avenue. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Less than a year after it denied a proposal for a mixed-use building on Central Avenue, Whitefish City Council on Monday approved a similar proposal by a different developer for the same spot.

Council in a unanimous vote approved a request for a conditional use permit to allow for the construction of a new building on the site formerly housing Lakestream Fly Shop. Bill Goldberg, who owns the property, plans to construct a 8,205-square-foot building that he asked to include retail and commercial spaces on the first floor, and residential on the second and third floors.

City Councilor Richard Hildner said he spent a fair amount of time standing on the block of Central Avenue between East Third and East Fourth streets thinking about the future of its development.

“This has been a difficult study for me,” he said. “I’ve thought a lot about the Whitefish that I know and what kind of town I would like my kids to come home to.”

Council added two conditions to the permit. One requires the first floor of the building to be constructed to the lot line rather than set back as had been originally proposed and had previously been brought up by some as a concern. The second mandates that the entire ground floor can only be for retail uses.

Hildner suggested both of the conditions, noting that other buildings on Central Avenue to the north are constructed to the lot line.

Aaron Wallace, with Montana Creative representing the developer, said the intent of the commercial and retail spaces on the first floor had been to allow flexibility for who might rent the spaces. He noted that it’s more difficult to find retail renters for the parts of the building that don’t front Central.

He said the proposal to set the building back was the result of wanting to design a building with windows and articulations to avoid having a blank facade be visible to the north and south.

“The two adjacent buildings are not expected to be developed,” he said.

In February last year, Council denied a request from Fresh Life Church to construct a mixed-use building to house the church to the back of the first floor and retail space fronting Central Avenue at the same location. The proposal from the church drew a large volume of comments from citizens both in favor and against the request for a 11,200-square-foot building.

At the time, Council said the building lacked the retail space to be in compliance with the WB-3 zoning and the city’s downtown master plan, while also seeming to lack in compatibility with the community character of the street.

On Monday prior to Council’s vote, Goldberg’s proposal drew criticism during public comment that mirrored many of those same concerns.

Chris Schustrom pointed to Council’s reasons for denying the Fresh Life proposal as remaining in the latest plan for the site.

“It would seem appropriate that Council would be consistent with its decision on Fresh Life,” he said. “This has less retail space than the [Fresh Life] plan.”

Judy Hessellund said the building doesn’t match the character of the buildings in the downtown, and the decision should be based on how Whitefish will look aesthetically in the future.

“This building doesn’t fit with what we have,” she said. “We need to keep downtown unique.”

Preliminary drawings of the building show a design that some described as looking like toy blocks stacked on top of each other. The developer said the building was designed to mimic similar mixed-use buildings recently constructed across Central to the east.

Hildner said while Council can’t vote on the design of the building he encouraged the city’s architectural review committee to look closely at it.

“North of this is a beautiful eclectic collection of facades,” he said.

A conditional use permit is required to construct the building because it exceeds 7,500 square feet, has more than four residential units and is in the WB-3 zone and Old Town Central District.

The plan calls for nine units, a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom units on the second floor and three total residential units on the third floor in two- and three-bedroom size.

The city’s downtown master plan calls for multifamily housing in that area and the growth policy calls for commercial and mixed-used development on the south end of Central.

The plan for the new building calls for parking in the basement for 20 vehicles. The building would have rooftop access and a small patio at the center with an area for a hot tub.

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