Planning Board Endorses Whitefish Hotel Proposals

Two separate hotel projects, one downtown and the other on U.S. Highway 93 south of city center, are slated for council votes in October

By Tristan Scott
An architectural rendering depicts a proposed boutique hotel at 38 Central Ave. in downtown Whitefish. Courtesy image

The Whitefish Planning Board recently voted in support of two separate proposals to build new hotels in the city, one on a prominent lot downtown and the other off U.S. 93 south of the core business district.

Both projects require conditional-use permits and approval from the Whitefish City Council to move forward, with developers of the downtown project requesting a Planned Unit Development (PUD) to build a three-story, 40-suite boutique hotel downtown at 38 Central Ave. The total building footprint would be 16,250 square feet spanning five vacant lots fronting Central Avenue and First Street, adjacent to the Craggy Range.

The developer, Averill Hospitality, said the proposed uses include first-floor dining and retail space, with the second and third floors containing the hotel suites, as well as a rooftop deck serving food and beverages available to the public, and a basement parking structure with hydraulic stacking technology for maximizing space. The hotel is proposed to be constructed in 2022 and open in 2023. 

The developers are applying for a PUD because the proposed structure deviates from the city’s building height design standard, with the stair and elevator towers extending to 45 feet.

The applicant is not requesting a deviation to the building height maximum of 45-feet as outlined in the WB-3 zone, but rather an exception to the special provisions for the building height. They are requesting a height design deviation to allow three stories within the 35 feet without the requisite 20 feet setback for the third story.   

In exchange for the proposed zoning deviation, Averill Hospitality announced it plans to donate $500,000 to the Whitefish Housing Authority “to contribute to the costs of a workforce housing project that is slated to create up to 26 downtown workforce-housing spaces,” according to a news release from the group.

“One of our company’s fundamental goals is to be a steward and support our community in a meaningful way,” Brian Averill said in a statement. “This commitment helps guide our business decisions, operational goals, and philanthropy. Having grown up here, I know how critical this need is for our local residents in our community.”

In addition to the initial donation, Averill Hospitality will establish the collection of an optional 1% philanthropic gift from hotel guests on lodging and food revenues, to also be donated to the Whitefish workforce housing projects for a period of five years. 

Planning board members voted unanimously to recommend the project to the Whitefish City Council, which will hold a public hearing and final-action vote on Oct. 18.

The second hotel project is proposed by Greg Gastineau of Florida-based Rimrock Companies, which is seeking a conditional-use permit to build an 85-room hotel with a footprint of 12,970 square feet at 21 Hedman Lane, on the west side of U.S. Highway 93.

A conditional-use permit is required for hotels and motels in the WB-2 zoning districts, as are buildings with a footprint greater than 10,000 square feet.

Although the planning board recommended the project for approval in a divided 3-2 vote, it did so with some hesitation, giving consideration to adjacent residential landowners who objected to the addition of another hotel along a corridor already brimming with lodging accommodations.

Colin Baxter, a Whitefish resident who lives with his young family just north of the proposed hotel, urged city planning staff to recommend against the commercial project in favor of future developments that are “thoughtful, intentional and create a long-term benefit to the local community and culture of our town.”

“I’m sure nearly all residents of Whitefish would attest that the last thing we need in town is a new hotel,” Baxter wrote. “I sincerely hope that the Whitefish Planning Department takes this viewpoint into account, and can see the need not for another box full of tourists in town, but development of rich community spaces that can thrive and be enjoyed for decades to come.”

The project will go before the Whitefish City Council for a public hearing and final-action vote on Oct. 4.