Kalispell Unanimously Approves Permit for Homeless Shelter

Flathead Warming Center will operate 40-bed shelter on North Meridian Road; council also approves preliminary plat for phase two of Meadow's Edge development

By Maggie Dresser
Kalispell City Hall on May 22, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Kalispell City Council unanimously approved a conditional-use permit for a new permanent homeless shelter, which will be operated by the Flathead Warming Center and is intended to run from October through April from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. with up to 40 guests per night.

Councilors also unanimously approved a text amendment, which adds homeless shelters as a conditionally permitted use in a neighborhood business zone.

Located at 889 North Meridian Road, the property was most recently an auto repair shop and sits in a residential and commercial area.

The Flathead Warming Center set up a temporary location last winter to serve the homeless population in the basement of the Christ Episcopal Church in Kalispell while Executive Director Tonya Horning searched for a permanent facility. To address concerns from neighbors at the Third Avenue East location, she and other warming center officials prioritized good communication to ensure the neighborhood remained safe.

“When we bring people inside to warmth, safety and structure, the entire community is safer,” Horning said. “We are not introducing the community to the homeless, however. We are introducing community to the homeless.”

Flathead Warming Center officials recently hosted a community meeting with the Meridian Road neighborhood to hear their concerns.

“They have concerns and they have fear,” Horn said. “We have listened and continue to listen with our neighbors. Our efforts will not end with a conditional-use permit and our relationship will be ongoing. Where there are fears we have facts. We (already) had a successful season in a residential neighborhood.”

Carmine Mowbray, a Polson resident and a business owner in the Meridian Road neighborhood, expressed concerns over homeless populations that might not be accommodated at the warming center.

“What will happen when the warming center cannot accommodate all the people with needs?” Mowbray said. “The warming center is a low-barrier facility with strict rules, so where will the people go that won’t follow the rules and have been rejected elsewhere?”

Mowbray also asked for the city to have the option to revoke the conditional-use permit if safety and sanitation pose problems to surrounding businesses.

There were also several public comments in support of the warming center, including Gina Benesh, a property owner on Third Avenue East who originally had concerns over the temporary warming shelter’s location.

“I own a property that borders Christ Church and shortly after learning the warming center was moving in next door, you can imagine how I felt, not unlike how people are expressing concerns here,” Benesh said. “My fears were unfounded. They did a spectacular job. I never saw any homeless around the property there — no noise, no garbage, no loitering.”

Councilors also expressed support for the warming center’s conditional-use permit.

“One of the things I said at the planning board meeting, and I’ll say it again here tonight, is between the warming center and the neighborhood, communication is key,” Councilor Chad Graham said.

“I know that this will not address 100% of our issues, but if we can save one person from passing away or being seriously injured, I think this is a good location for this,” Councilor Sam Nunnally said.

Additionally, the council unanimously approved a preliminary plat for phase two of a Meadow’s Edge major subdivision plat for 37 residential lots on 13.5 acres at 1120 Farm to Market Road in west Kalispell. In phase one, there were 140 lots and the overall plan also calls for a commercial lot on 3.25 acres.

The entire development area covers 112.7 acres with a total of 322 lots and mixed-use commercial areas.

The council also unanimously approved a request by Hammerquist Casalegno for a commercial planned-unit development overlay on Snowline Lane.