Board recommends ice cream facility

by Daniel McKay
Whitefish Pilot | June 24, 2020 1:00 AM

The Whitefish Planning Board last week recommended approval for a Sweet Peaks ice cream manufacturing building, as well as a separate request for a West Second Street subdivision that would include some affordable housing.

The board met on June 18 at City Hall with spaced-out chairs and board members speaking from all corners of the City Council Chambers.

The board unanimously recommended approval for a new Sweet Peaks location, which would house their manufacturing process and act as part of the entrance to town from the south.

Marissa Keenan, owner of Sweet Peaks, said her business is home-grown and she wants to keep growing while helping to represent Whitefish’s small business successes.

“We consider ourselves to be a Whitefish-grown business,” Keenan said. “We are very committed to this community, and this community has been very committed to us. We feel this location would be an honor for us to be at the entrance to Whitefish, and we know we would be a very welcoming thing to see as a small business that’s grown up here and plans on staying here and continuing to contribute.”

The Sweet Peaks owners are seeking a conditional use permit to allow for the facility and ice cream retail store in the former Dos Amigos restaurant and Best Bet Casino. The building is currently vacant.

Sweet Peaks plans to remodel the building and facade, add landscaping and provide indoor and outdoor seating for ice cream patrons. There will also be additional room for manufacturing and expansion, and additional commercial tenant space in the building.

Light manufacturing is a conditional use in the WB-2 zone where the building is located.

The owner plans to encourage pedestrian and bicycle access to the property by connecting the existing sidewalk along the highway to the interior of the project and installing bike racks, according to the planning staff report.

City Councilor and Planning Board member Steve Qunell praised the project, noting the addition it will bring to the city’s entrance corridor.

“I just want to say thank you, it’s going to be quite the upgrade at that corner. As you know we had a big to-do about what the entrance of our town should look like, I consider that corner much more the entrance to our town than the one at Montana 40 and Highway 93,” he said. “It will be nice to have something that is homegrown and looks good on that corner.”

The project will go before City Council on July 20.

During the meeting the board also recommended approval of a request by Big Mountain River LLC for a 20-townhouse residential subdivision on West Second Street.

The applicant is seeking a preliminary plat to develop four two-unit buildings and four three-unit buildings.

The property is currently vacant and is zoned low-density multi-family residential.

The developer previously submitted the request for the May planning board meeting, but after hearing from the Whitefish Housing Authority that they would be more supportive of units rather than a fee-in-lieu of affordable housing, the developer reworked the project.

To comply with the Legacy Homes program, the applicant is proposing to develop three deed restrict affordable units and pay the fee in lieu for the fourth unit in the amount of $116,930.

The board voted unanimously to approve the project, praising the developers for revisiting the project and adding affordable housing units.

“I got a chance to review this with the Housing Authority and I very much appreciate the applicant’s willingness to reconsider and provide affordable housing as the inclusionary zoning plan intends,” board member John Middleton said. “I think it’s a great project, it’s going to fill a very important need and I plan on enthusiastically supporting it.”

Qunell echoed those sentiments.

“We want to thank you all for reconsidering and including affordable units because that is the goal of the inclusionary zoning ordinance that we passed, to actually build units and not to just collect money from developers, because we’ve gone down that road and we tend to not get things built,” he said.

The development would include a new single access off of West Second Street and a private road would loop through the property for access to all units. There would also be a private sidewalk system and a new paved trail along the western edge of the property would be open to the public.

Parking would be provided with two-car garages and two surface parking areas around the site.

The project would provide open space areas to the north, along the Whitefish River, and to the west. The open space area to the west would contain a 10-foot wide paved pedestrian bicycle path within a 20-foot easement and this trail is planned to connect West Second to the new trail system in the 95 Karrow project to the north.

The applicant is proposing to protect the Whitefish River with a buffer and setback meeting the Water Quality Protection regulations.

There are some building sites within 200-feet of the river on slopes that likely exceed 10%, according to the staff report, and thus based on Water Quality Protection regulations will require a geotechnical letter supporting construction of the building.

The project will go before City Council on July 6.

The board also recommended approval for a request by John Shigo and Christina Larsen for a conditional use permit to construct an accessory apartment in an existing structure at 725 Somers Ave, as well as a request from Pamela Secrease for a conditional use permit to construct an accessory apartment above a new garage at 909 Kalispell Ave.