Bittersweet Victory for Mrs. Spoonover’s

By Beacon Staff

The great ice cream cone debate is done. But so too is the business caught in the middle of the debate.

The Whitefish City Council voted 3-2 on Dec. 6 to grant a sign variance for Mrs. Spoonover’s ice cream parlor on Second Street kitty corner to Whitefish Middle School. The variance ends three years of wrangling between the city and owners Judy and Joel Scallen over a mural on the side of the Scallens’ building.

Judy Scallen said that she’s pleased with the council’s decision. But while the mural will stay, it will no longer represent her business. The Scallens have lost their lease and Scallen said she’s trying to finish out the month.

“We aren’t making it and we’re struggling,” Scallen said.

She added: “We’re happy to say we’re victorious and the sign will stay up as long as anyone wants it.”

City officials argued the mural illegally advertises the restaurant’s products. The mural depicts a teapot, soup, doughnut and, most prominently, an ice cream cone. Under city laws, only signs, not murals, can display products sold at the business, and city officials said Mrs. Spoonover’s had already used all of its allotted sign space.

Planning and Zoning Director Dave Taylor ruled that the mural must either be removed or allowed as a sign. The Whitefish Board of Adjustment upheld Taylor’s decision in 2008.

But after the Scallens took the city to court, Flathead County District Court Judge Katherine Curtis in July ruled that Taylor and the Board of Adjustment failed to apply the city’s sign laws consistently and reasonably. The board’s decision was vacated.

Curtis ruled that while the mural does indeed advertise the restaurant’s products and qualifies as a sign, the problem is the consistency in which the city applies its sign ordinance. She cited other Whitefish businesses with murals that have not been asked to remove the artwork.

Following Curtis’ decision, the city maintained the possibility of an appeal, leaving further question marks on the table. The sign variance puts an end to those lingering questions and brings Mrs. Spoonover’s into compliance.

Councilors Chris Hyatt, Turner Askew and Phil Mitchell voted in favor of the variance. Ryan Friel and John Muhlfeld voted in opposition.

Scallen doesn’t know what will happen with the space once she moves out.

“It was a very interesting three-year trip,” she said.

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