In a surprising change of course, the Whitefish City Council on July 18 voted unanimously to approve a Marriott hotel near the entrance to downtown that it nearly denied two weeks prior.
The council provided no discussion on the vote, which stood out in stark contrast to the lively debate surrounding the previous meeting, much of which centered on whether a chain hotel was the right fit in the gateway to a vibrant city center populated with small businesses.
Jordan Scott, of Whitefish TP LLC, is planning to construct the three-story, 81-room Marriott TownePlace Suites off U.S. Highway 93 South, a structure that requires a conditional use permit because its footprint exceeds the 15,000-square-foot zoning requirement.
Speaking to the council this week, Scott said the developers could have built two structures on the same site and avoided the permit request, but they “decided to roll the dice” and go before the planning board and council with the request while taking into account the concerns of residents at a nearby development.
At its July 5 meeting, the city council voted to deny the permit, describing the Marriott franchise as out of sync with Whitefish’s character. The vote to deny was followed by a successful motion to postpone the decision, and councilors asked staff and the city attorney to draft findings of fact that would support the council’s authority to issue a decision to deny.
“The last city council meeting we had we were a little beside ourselves, but we respect your opinions,” Scott said at this week’s meeting. “We hope we have a second chance to gain your support.”
The motion to approve the Marriott along with two additional conditions to screen the property with landscaping passed immediately after the developer’s comments.
The proposed hotel is a downsized version of an earlier request from the developers to construct a larger hotel with 111 rooms and 115 parking spaces, which would have included a zoning deviation to build up to 42 feet in height.
The revised hotel would be located at 6361 Highway 93 South, would have 90 parking spaces and two driveways off a new east-west public street constructed from U.S. 93 to Whitefish Avenue, and would be 35 feet in height. The developer is also proposing to build an outdoor pool and outdoor seating areas on both the north and south sides of the building.
The project requires a conditional use permit because at more than 17,500 square feet, its footprint exceeds the 15,000-square-foot zoning condition, requiring a variance.
Scott said locating a branded hotel while maintaining the character of Whitefish is no easy feat, but the developers took care not to compromise the city’s charm.
The Marriott proposal is the third hotel project to surface in Whitefish in the past year.
The three-story, 86-room Firebrand Hotel is nearing completion at the downtown corner of Second Street and Spokane Avenue. On U.S. 93, a 76-room Hampton Inn and Suites has been complete off the highway behind the former Wendy’s restaurant site, also is three stories high.
At the July 5 meeting, several hoteliers voiced their objections, including Rhonda Fitzgerarld, owner of the Garden Wall Inn in downtown Whitefish, who cautioned that squeezing too many cookie-cutter accommodations into and around the city center would not only strain the market, but it would begin to characterize the town.
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