Board rejects plan for mixed-use building on Lupfer

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Del Mar Pacific Group is requesting a conditional use permit to construct a mixed-use building at the corner of Lupfer Avenue and Second Street. The house on the corner, along with the adjacent home to the south, would be removed to make way for the building. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Saying it just couldn’t see how the building would fit with the neighborhood, Whitefish Planning Board last week voted against a planned mixed-use building for the corner of Lupfer Avenue and Second Street.

The board voted 3-1 to recommend denial to City Council on the request for a conditional use permit for the project. Del Mar Pacific Group, headed up by Mark Panissidi, is requesting the permit to construct the building proposed to contain three commercial units and 13 residential units on the property that currently contains two residential buildings.

Board members Richard Hildner, Toby Scott and Whitney Beckman voted in favor of the motion, while John Ellis disagreed, voting against the recommendation of denial.

Hildner noted he was having a hard time keeping his heart out of the decision pointing to the house on the corner that many noted would qualify to be on the National Historic Register because of its age.

“I can’t use my emotion as much as I want to retain that house,” Hildner said. “This [proposed] building does not conform to what’s there — the Duncan Samson building and the Masonic Temple building, which are iconic buildings in that neighborhood.”

The Duncan Samson building is on the southeast corner of Second and Lupfer, and the Masonic Temple building is on northeast corner of the same intersection. Both are historic buildings in Whitefish and are more than 100 years old.

Developers did note that the plan is to move the house on the corner rather than demolish it.

Hildner pointed to one of the findings of fact the board must consider in its decisions — specifically structural bulk, massing and scale as not matching the neighborhood.

“At three stories, this building will be one of the more massive on the south side of East Second Street,” the planning staff report notes, though plans call for the “third story be set back 20-feet from the right of way to help reduce its bulk and mass.”

Scott agreed that the building is not a fit for the neighborhood.

“It’s not suitable for the area,” he said. “The size and scope of this is considerably larger than what’s there and it’s inappropriate.”

A CUP is required because the proposed building’s footprint would be greater than 7,500 square feet and include more than four residential units.

Plans call for the commercial units, along with one residential, on the ground floor, and the remaining residential units on the second and third floors.

Sixteen parking spaces would be provided split between under the building and off the alley to the south for the residential units. No parking is required, under zoning code, for the commercial units.

Architect Ken Huff, representing the project, argued that the building has been designed to fit in with the neighborhood.

“It’s similar to nearby brick buildings,” Huff said. “It’s consistent with the Samson building. We’re doing our best to fit into that corner.”

The application for the project, says plans call for the scale of the building is “respectful of the adjacent older brick buildings.” The site slope on the property from east to west has resulted in the building being designed with the ground floor on the east end on Lupfer becoming the second floor on the west end, “essentially splitting the building into two separate buildings.”

“The first two floors of the new building will be a similar height and attempt to offer the same corner presence as the two other buildings,” the application states. “The proposed third floor will step back [20] feet to reduce the mass immediately on the corner.”

Though architectural design of the building is reviewed by the Architectural Review Committee, designs for it show a three-story brick building with brick columns and large glass windows, and a mono-pitched roof that is a single-sloped roof often referred to as a shed roof.

During public comment, Rhonda Fitzgerald said the house on the corner was originally the home of Jemima Duncan and J.A. Samson, who constructed the Duncan Samson building in 1910 across the street.

“It’s a tragedy that this house is being removed,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re losing it to repracious development. We’re losing all the prominent structures near the core of downtown and that’s sad. We need to maintain the character of Whitefish and this clearly does not.”

“It’s a tragedy to shove inconsistent design in this neighborhood,” she added.

Other neighbors were concerned with the potential for noise from vacation rentals, which under zoning would be allowed in the building, and a perceived lack of parking, though the CUP plans for more spaces than required by zoning code.

Natasha Ostrom, who owns a house on Lupfer Avenue, said that not enough parking is being planned for the building.

“I’m surprised that he’s asking for this square footage and not giving extra parking spaces,” she said. “A CUP is not a given. Concessions need to be made because you’re asking for more than is typically allowed.”

Helene Robinson, who lives near the property on O’Brien Avenue, said she was concerned about potential for traffic from the building, along with impacts if it is used for vacation rentals. She also questioned the size of the residential units planned.

“I’m thinking about the level of noise and the parking,” she said.

The building is planned to include nine two-bedroom and four three-bedroom units, for a total of 30 bedrooms in the residential units, according to Panissidi.

Parking space requirements, which the plan would meet, is determined by the unit count and not the number of bedrooms under city code. The developer has not said if the units will be used for vacation rentals.

City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and consider the request at its June 17 meeting.

The board also:

• Voted to recommend zoning text amendment that is a companion to the zoning for affordability of the Legacy Homes Program to add two new subsections with development standards for multifamily developments as well as mixed-use and nonresidential developments.

The proposed text changes provide more stringent review criteria including for building orientation, protection of natural features, landscaping and parking lot standards, open space requirements, pedestrian and bicycle accommodations, and neighborhood scale and compatibility.

With the changes to the zoning code to implement the Strategic Housing Plan, staff lowered the threshold for when conditional use permits are required for multifamily in order to capture more developments in the affordable housing program, according to the planning staff report, and part of that change involved broadening the use of the administrative CUP tool, and these standards provide a more in-depth review process prior to any approval by staff or the Planning Board and City Council.

Planning Director Dave Taylor said having the standards in place will assist in review by the Architectural Review Committee, which only sees projects after they are approved by Council and often already have the site layout and basic building design and orientation already established.

Boardmember John Ellis questioned whether it’s a good idea to allow for administrative PUDs.

“I think we’re selling our soul to the devil for an administrative CUP,” he said, noting that the planning board had just voted against a project that the planning department recommended.

“This puts a lot of pressure on the planning department,” he said.

Council is set to consider the amendment at its June 3 meeting.

• Voted to recommend a several housekeeping amendments to the zoning code. The amendments are to fix errors and inconsistencies found by staff, remove a loophole involving guest quarters, implement a portion of the downtown master plan regarding ground floor use restrictions and implement a portion of the Wisconsin corridor plan regarding formula retail/restaurants and setbacks along Wisconsin Avenue. Council is set to hold a public hearing on the item at its June 17 meeting.

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