Fresh Life eyes downtown Whitefish for new church

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An artist’s rendering shows Fresh Life Church’s proposal for a new mixed-use building in downtown Whitefish. (Rendering provided)

Fresh Life Church plans to build a 10,810-square-foot mixed-use building on Central Avenue in downtown Whitefish that would include a new church and several retail spaces.

The church would build on three city lots that include the lot where Lakestream Fly Shop operated for many years at 334 Central Ave. Fresh Life staff told the Whitefish Planning Office that the existing building — a two-story home converted to business use decades ago — will be moved off the site if a conditional-use permit is approved, Planning Director David Taylor said.

A public hearing to consider the church and retail project will be held before the Whitefish Planning Board on Jan. 18.

Fresh Life touts the proposed construction project as “better use of three city lots with infill-style construction,” its application to the city states. The church has a similar infill project underway in Kalispell, where Fresh Life is constructing a two-story building between two historic buildings the church owns on First Avenue East.

Founded in 2007 by the Rev. Levi Lusko and his wife Jenny Lusko, Fresh Life Church began in Kalispell and has expanded to include campuses in Whitefish, Polson, Missoula, Bozeman, Billings, Helena, Great Falls, Butte, and at out-of-state sites in Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore. A new campus is launching this week in Jackson, Wyoming, according to the church website.

Fresh Life’s Whitefish congregation has been meeting at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center in recent years.

The proposed building site, zoned for general business, is in Whitefish’s Old Town Central District. Because zoning regulations in that area do not allow a church at ground level, Fresh Life proposes to build the church portion of the building in a split-level style, with one floor below and one floor above ground, according to planner Hilary Lindh.

The entire facility would be 125 feet deep and 90 feet wide, which includes a 60-by-80-foot area for retail spaces fronting Central Avenue. Five retail spots are proposed. There are no setback requirements in the downtown area, and Fresh Life architectural drawings indicate the retail spaces would abut the sidewalk.

In its application, Fresh Life said the building “will be designed to complement and enhance this block of Central Avenue.” The site is near the historic First Presbyterian Church and Frank Lloyd Wright building.

There is no parking requirement in the general business district, but the application notes the church portion of the building would have minimal impact Monday through Saturday, with an increase in parking demand for 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday services. The church would serve a congregation of about 150 people.

The Planning Board will make a recommendation on the conditional-use permit request, which is expected to be considered for final approval by the City Council on Feb. 19. If approved, the project would be subject to review by the city’s Architectural Review Committee.

The Planning Board meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18, at Whitefish City Hall, 418 E. Second St.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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