Neighbors concerned about Fresh Life Church proposal in Whitefish

Fresh Life Church building in downtown Kalispell

Fresh Life Church is applying for a conditional use permit to build on Central Avenue in downtown Whitefish, but many residents do not support the plan.

There is a First Presbyterian Church on the same block of Central Avenue.

"The First Presbyterian Church across the street from the location has been there since 1903," said Whitefish resident Chris Schustrom.

Since the church has been at the location for quite some time it has an established spot in downtown Whitefish and is not affected by the downtown Whitefish business district master plan.

The location at 334 Central Ave., where Fresh Life Church wants to build, would have to comply with the requirements of the master plan.

Schustrom is part of the Heart of Whitefish organization that’s dedicated to revitalizing downtown Whitefish, and he is not sold on the church's idea.

"It just happens that this applicant and this application for the proposed purpose do not meet the requirements of the downtown master plan, and that won’t help us achieve our goal of keeping downtown Whitefish economically viable," said Schustrom.

The master plan requires the ground level to be retail, which Fresh Life plans to do.

There is some concern that the church will not have to pay property taxes.

"This spring they are investing over $1 million into rebuilding this block of Central Avenue, and that's meant to drive reinvestment in this block of Central Avenue by properties that will actually pay property taxes," said Schustrom.

Currently Fresh Life Church of Whitefish does not have its own building, so they meet at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center.

NBC Montana reached out to church officials, but so far we haven’t heard back.

Some residents are worried about parking, but third-generation Whitefish native Mike Potter thinks it will not be a problem.

"I used to live right across the street,” said Potter. “I think the parking on a Sunday, at least from the usage patterns I've gathered growing up here, the parking is way more available on a Sunday.”

Potter’s concern is that he wants the church to be treated like a business.

"I hope the church will affect the community in a positive way, but it is a business," said Potter.

The proposed plan is for a 7,500-square-foot building, which is about the size of four average Whitefish houses. It would replace the old building that used to be a fly-fishing shop.

In city documents, church officials say they will be a good neighbor, but some neighbors we talked to think the church needs to go somewhere else.

The planning board will decide on the proposed plan in their meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday. The public is welcome to attend.

The application for the building can be found here.

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