Planning board splits on request for downtown winery

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The Whitefish Planning Board was unable to come up with a consensus on a proposal for a mixed-use building housing a winery on Spokane Avenue.

The board tied 3-3 in voting on the matter at its Dec. 20 meeting, and thus will forward the request to City Council without a recommendation. Some members of the board said they could not support the winery because of its planned location across the street from the entrance to Whitefish Middle School.

“I don’t think this is a bad idea — it’s just not in the right place,” planning board chair Steve Qunell said. “It’s not the right place to have a winery right across from the school.”

Board member Richard Hildner concurred saying that while other establishments near the middle school serve alcohol, he couldn’t support the winery.

“In this case we’re going to have a winery that is almost directly opposite the main entrance to the middle school,” he said.

Nicole Erickson and Bald Eagle LLC are requesting a conditional use permit to develop a mixed-use building with a winery at 20 Spokane Avenue. Plans call for remodeling and expanding the existing building that houses Whitefish Builders and is south of Stumptown Marketplace.

Erickson said the plan is to have a tasting room with a bar area for samples and retail space on the main floor of the building.

“We’re going to be importing a variety of grape juices that are then put in 1,000 liter steel tanks and yeast is added,” she said. “Then after the initial fermenting process the wine sits in the racking phase. We will be serving red, white and flavored wines.”

Under state law, alcohol can not be sold within 600 feet of a place of worship or school.

However, Planning Director Dave Taylor said there is no restrictions against the winery operating across the street from the middle school.

“We have a special exemption in our code that gives us precedent over some of the state laws with regard to the schools because almost all of our downtown is within a close distance to the school,” Taylor said.

In addition, city planning staff noted, the state Department of Revenue in issuing alcohol licenses bases licenses off of the middle school’s address which is on Second Street not Spokane Avenue.

The current building is one story, but the plan calls for adding a second story for three residential units. The total size of the building is proposed about 3,770 square feet.

A CUP is required as a winery, considered similar to a microbrewery or micro-distillery, is a bar under the city zoning regulations. The property is currently zoned WB-3.

Planning staff is recommending approval with 10 conditions.

City Council is set to hold a public hearing on the request on Jan. 22.

In a separate item, the Planning Board voted to recommend to Council a request from 95 Karrow LLC to amend a planned unit development overlay to add clubs, private and semi-private recreational facilities to the list of permitted uses within the 95 Karrow project at the former Idaho Timber site.

Casey Malmquist, one of the partners in the project, said in planning to develop the property a potential tenant was interested in creating a wellness center on the property. “A wellness center ties in with the hotel and conference center,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense — Whitefish encourages healthy living.”

He said the wellness center would be open to the public.

The wellness center could contain an aquatics center, snack and juice bar, small ancillary retail, spa space and conference space. The center would share the Marketplace building, occupying about 24,500 square feet of the planned 40,640-square-foot building.

Plans for the 95 Karrow property include developing the 22-acre site at the north end of Karrow Avenue to include residential units, professional offices, limited retail, artisan workshop space, studio and gallery space and personal service businesses.

In January 2018 City Council approved a preliminary plat and PUD for 95 Karrow. Since then the developer has been working toward final plat and meeting the conditions of that approval, according to city planning staff.

Planning staff is recommending approval of the request.

City Council will hold a public hearing on the request on Jan. 7.

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