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Mercantile applicant appeals commission’s findings to City Council on several fronts

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By Martin Kidsdton/MISSOULA CURRENT

The developer looking to construct a $30 million branded hotel in downtown Missoula has appealed a decision by the Missoula Historic Preservation Commission, saying the commission violated the developers’ due process rights, ignored city ordinance and failed to consider the general facts.

Andy Holloran of HomeBase said he was disappointed with last week’s decision by the commission to unanimously deny a deconstruction permit for the vacant Missoula Mercantile, but remains hopeful that HomeBase will get a fair hearing before the City Council.

In their appeal, the developers say the preservation commission failed to accurately consider a number of facts. While four members of the commission recused themselves from voting over accusations of bias, the appeal adds, they still played a hand in leading other members to a decision.

“It was obvious they had a plan from the get-go,” Holloran said. “We’re taking the high road. We do believe the City Council will evaluate our application and the findings of fact, and give the application what it deserves, and that’s a fair hearing.”

HomeBase is looking to deconstruct the Mercantile building, which has sat empty for six years on the corner of Higgins Avenue and E. Front Street in downtown Missoula. In it’s place, the firm is looking build a $30 million hotel and believes it would revitalize the corner.

The project has won the support of various community groups, including the Missoula Chamber of Commerce and the Missoula Downtown Association, among others. However, it was rejected last week by the preservation commission, which suggested that HomeBase had failed to properly complete a number of required goals.

Among them, six voting members of the commission ruled that HomeBase had failed to consult with the appropriate agencies in the required time frame, and didn’t make a good-faith effort to find a buyer, despite documents suggesting otherwise.

They also tossed out more than 20 factual findings to reach their decision. Many of the findings rendered by the commission stand in direct conflict with a report compiled by the city’s Historic Preservation Office, which recommended approving the developer’s permit.

“The City Council will look at both (reports),” said Leslie Schwab, the city’s preservation officer. “I can’t really express an opinion, but they (developers) have a right to appeal, and they’re moving forward with that appeal.”

Schwab said her report, which found that the developers had met the criteria, was based on evidence.

The appeal, filed by Alan McCormick with Garlington, Lohn and Robinson, states that the commission “failed to support its decision with accurate findings of fact, even acknowledging during the meeting they had stricken all findings which supported approval of the application.”

“The HPC violated the applicant’s due process rights and otherwise failed to provide a fair, objective consideration of the application,” the appeal reads. “The HPC failed to support its decision with accurate findings of fact, even acknowledging during the meeting they had stricken all findings which supported approval of the application.

The City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee is scheduled to begin discussing the application this week.

Mike Haynes, director of Development Services, and Schwab will provide a history of the permit, including the 90-day hearing process held by the preservation commission and its eventual denial.

The issue is slated for three committee sessions and is tentatively set for a public hearing before the full City Council on June 27.

“Time is never good for development projects, but we’re at a process now – a stage now – where this is what we anticipated,” said Holloran. “We’re disappointed in the HPC process, but we really believe we can get a fair, objective and unbiased hearing with the City Council.”

Holloran said the project continues to evolve based on feedback received over the past several months.

“We’re excited to present those and continue that evolution so we have a project everyone can be proud of and support,” Holloran said. “We remain optimistic. We think the project is a catalyst for downtown. This corner deserves a significant project with an anchor tenant.”