WHITEFISH – Following an outcry from neighbors, Ryan Zinke shelved his plans to build a microbrewery and bed and breakfast along West Second Street.
Concerned neighbors submitted a signed petition to the city, protesting an “alteration of zoning regulations” and requiring a two-thirds city council vote to approve the project. City planning staff had also cited concerns and noted that the planning board altered findings of fact in its recommendation for approval.
Zinke, a Republican state senator until the end of the year, canceled a Dec. 3 hearing in which the council was set to vote on his planned unit development overlay.
In an interview, Zinke said the concerns voiced by neighbors were based on “misinformation,” “disinformation” and “disingenuous” claims. He specifically pointed to accusations that he was getting special treatment from the city and that the project would impact Third Street. He isn’t sure whether he’ll propose it again.
“It became very emotional to some people,” he said. “The facts were different than the emotions.”
“I’m not bitter,” he added. “I’m disappointed in the process and how the process laid out. And obviously I’m disappointed that I had to pull the project because an unfair cloud had been cast over it.”
Zinke’s proposal called for turning an existing home on his family’s property into the Snow Frog Inn bed and breakfast. Then on the opposite north side of U.S. Highway 93 West, also on his family’s property, he planned to build the Double Tap brewery. He maintained that both proposals were appropriate uses for the neighborhood.
But neighbors, at meetings and in letters to the editor, said the plan wasn’t appropriate for the residential neighborhood and was rammed through by a planning board that didn’t listen to their concerns. They cited noise, traffic and general disruption caused by commercial activities in a residential area.
One neighbor, Laira Fonner, wrote a letter to the editor noting a “barrage of concerned neighbors” at a Nov. 15 Whitefish city-county planning board meeting in which Zinke’s proposal was recommended for approval.
Fonner wrote: “The planning board had made up their minds before they even entered the room that night and it was not open for any discussion.” Mary Vail was the lone planning board member to vote in opposition.
Another neighbor, Susan Prilliman, expressed similar concerns about the planning board meeting in a letter to the editor: “Something is very wrong here. What I witnessed at this hearing was a blatantly disrespectful process.”
Whitefish planning department staff also had reservations and recommended the council table the project until a corridor study for West Second Street – also West Highway 93 – is completed. A staff report said the project doesn’t comply with the city’s growth policy and that the properties in question are designated “high density residential.”
Senior planner Wendy Compton-Ring also noted that the planning board removed conditions and changed several findings of fact from the planning staff’s report, including altering language from “the project does not comply” with the growth policy to “the project complies.”
Another finding of fact stated that the “development could affect the integrity of the neighborhood.” The word “could” was changed to “will not.”
Zinke said he “didn’t want to divide the neighborhood” and canceled the city council hearing, even though he felt the project would ultimately be good for the neighborhood. He noted that he planned to give the city a conservation easement to the Whitefish River behind the microbrewery and an easement for the bike path.
“I had a lot of support for both projects,” he said. “Obviously I’m deeply disappointed. This is an example of why it’s difficult to do business in Whitefish.”
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