Council splits on approval for Lupfer building

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An artists rendering submitted to the City of Whitefish shows the mixed-use building planned for the corner of Lupfer Avenue and Second Street.

Whitefish City Council on a split vote last week decided to approve plans for a new three-story mixed-use building planned for the corner of Lupfer Avenue and Second Street.

Del Mar Pacific Group, headed up by Mark Panissidi, requested a conditional use permit to construct the building, proposed to contain three commercial units and 13 residential units. The property currently contains two residential buildings, although one has been used for commercial use in the past.

Council voted 4-2 to approve the project. Councilors Andy Feury, Ryan Hennen, Katie Williams and Melissa Hartman voted in favor of the project, while Councilors Richard Hildner and Frank Sweeney voted against. An earlier motion to deny the project failed.

Hennen explained his decision to vote for the project, saying the benefits of the building presented outweighed the cost of what could potentially come in the area if a developer built on the properties based upon what would be allowed as a use-by-right.

“I’m just looking at what could go in here otherwise. I think they’ve got a good plan here and I think we can hold them to it. I’m confident [Panissidi] is going to do the right thing,” he said.

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.

Planning Director Dave Taylor said the property is six individual lots fronting Second Street meaning that without obtaining a CUP there is a couple different ways it could be developed as a use by right.

By obtaining a building permit, it could be developed with six narrow three-story mixed-use buildings with up to four apartments on each lot with no setbacks. At least one parking space per residential unit would be required.

Alternatively, a developer could remove some of the lot lines to construct three 45-feet tall buildings with no setbacks. If developed for commercial use then no off-street parking would be required.

Taylor said by opting to apply for a CUP for one larger building on the lots, it provides the opportunity to create a more attractive building and enables more underground parking as part of the project. In addition, it saves costs and provides an offset off of Lupfer Avenue for a courtyard, he noted following the meeting.

Williams agreed that approving the plan was better than risking what could be constructed without a CUP.

“I understand the impacts that this could potentially do to the neighborhood, but this is a case of what you could get by use-by-right, what the developers are bringing to the table in terms of alternative options and what could or couldn’t happen,” she said. “It’s kind of choosing who your neighbor is in a sensible way, meaning we’re going to get the setbacks off Lupfer to try and blend in the neighborhood.”

“We have a bigger problem that we keep hearing time and time again from community comment that we have a lot of development coming in and people want to move to Whitefish and our historical neighborhoods are not being preserved, and unfortunately we do not have anything in our ordinances that can preserve historical neighborhoods,” she added. “That’s something that the Council will have to look at.”

Hildner voted against the project arguing that the proposed building did not fit the character of the neighborhood.

Along with those concerns, Hildner shared his worries that developers are putting the city in a tough spot when it comes to leveraging their use-by-right in areas.

“I’m concerned that we are sometimes being held hostage on a use-by-right issue, and that if you don’t give me what I want I’m going to do a use-by-right and make it look really ugly and bad,” Hildner said. “I have heard the developer and others say that Mr. Panissidi will do a beautiful job with this project. I would also expect that a beautiful job would be done if it was a use-by-right.”

During public comment, several community members spoke against the proposed building as it was presented.

Helene Robinson, who lives in a nearby apartment on O’Brien Avenue, pointed to a dissonance between the building’s design and the surrounding neighborhood.

“I think overall the building is just too big for the neighborhood, it’s probably the biggest structure downtown since this building [City Hall],” she said. “This is going to impact the neighborhood in a big way.”

Judy Hesselund petitioned to instead keep the current building at the corner of Second Street and Lupfer Avenue and add on to it.

“My dream for that property would be to keep that Dutch Colonial, maybe move it a little bit and somehow build onto in the same style. It’s a neat building, it’s sad that this town does not have any ordinance that says any place over say 50 years needs special permits to get rid of it, because it is historic,” she said.

Concerns about the design of the proposed building were addressed by the architect, Ken Huff.

Current images shown of the building depict a three-story brick buildings with brick columns and large glass windows,.

“These are rough draft drawings at this point,” he said. “We have a long way to go. We know we’re going to have to work our way through architectural review.”

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.

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

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.

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