PORT ANGELES — Progress has stalled on planning for a four-story, 106-room downtown hotel over issues of permitting, environmental mitigation and electrical infrastructure, city of Port Angeles and Lower Elwha Klallam tribal officials said last week.
Tribal Project Manager Michael Peters said he’s hopeful recent discussions with the Port Angeles public works’ Light Operations Division have jump-started one goal: the city’s shutdown of a vaulted electrical switch on the 1.16-acre parcel in the 100 block of East Front Street. The switch serves part of the city’s retail core, he said.
“That switch needs to be moved to finalize our design,” Peters said Friday.
He said delays over the switch have impeded progress on designing the 106-room hotel — which may not be four stories or 106 rooms by the time it’s built, depending on what’s approved during the permit process.
“If the switch is not moved, it doesn’t matter what happens because it doesn’t match up with what the design of the building will be,” he said.
Public Works and Utilities Director Thomas Hunter and a supervisor at the Light Operations Division did not return calls for comment Friday about the switch. City Manager Nathan West was out of the office Friday, he said in a cellphone recording.
The future of the $25 million project seemed like more of a sure thing in mid-February, Peters said.
The tribe had submitted land and shoreline-use permit applications to the Department of Community and Economic Development was anticipating a determination that they were complete, which Peters fully expected by the end of the 28-day review period.
“We took a break,” he told Peninsula Daily News on Feb. 15, “and now we are ready to go.”
But Community Development Manager Emma Bolin said last week the city has been waiting since a March 17 letter was sent to the tribe for more justification for a shoreline variance.
Approval would allow the tribe to exceed the 45-foot building height limit by 33 percent for the 60-foot, 81,288-square-foot building.
“We’ve done our preliminary review,” Bolin said Thursday.
“We’ve asked for additional information and are waiting for that response.
“We’ve been waiting for quite some time,” Bolin said.
“The shoreline variance response is going to be very important, because the city and Department of Ecology must approve the building use in the shoreline.”
Conditional use and shoreline variance permit applications must be decided by a hearing examiner for the project to exceed the city’s building-height limit.
A hearing examiner decides on the conditional use permit and variance; the shoreline decision goes to the state Department of Ecology for final approval.
Bolin said for shoreline variance approval, applicants must show that strict application of the height limit would significantly interfere with use of the property and that the applicant would suffer hardship related to those conditions, such as lot size.
The standards are different for a shoreline variance than for a conditional use permit.
“We are optimistic that when we submit the latest response request, our application will be accepted and a hearing will be held,” Peters said Saturday in a text message.
Two blocks west of the hotel site, the Anian Shores garage-residential complex development and the Field Arts and Events Center received city conditional use permits to exceed the height limit, Anian Shores to 70 feet and the Field Center to 50.4 feet.
The standards are different than those for a shoreline variance.
“We’re going to provide them with some of the answers,” Peters said, emphasized he wants a hearing before he finalizes disign plans for the hotel — such as its height.
“We’re in a Catch-22,” he said Friday.
“At some point you have to draw a line and say let’s have a hearing. That’s been a big part of the delay.
“We are not at an impasse with the city,” he added.
“We are continuing to review the design, we are continuing to review the time line and we are continuing to improve our communication between the tribe and the city so that we understand each other’s needs and wants.”
A hearing would address concerns about the project, Peters said.
“We can submit an application and have the hearing and then answer the concerns that people bring up and mitigate some of them if they need to be done,” he said.
Whether the project will stay at 106 rooms if a 60-foot building is not allowed is an open question, Peters said, calling it another Catch-22 aspect of the project as it currently stands.
“We can’t finalize any of that until the hearing to find out if they let us go to the height we want to go to, and we can’t have that until the hearing,” he said.
“Then we’ll know what is allowable in the shoreline zone.”
It won’t be easy to lower the height to 45 feet and lose an as-yet undetermined number of rooms, Peters said.
He said the purchase of Necessities and Temptations gift shop at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Laurel Street on the north end of the parcel gave the tribe more flexibility in designing the building, although a shorter building still would present challenges.
“It’s not an easy thing to, say, bring the height down from 60 to 45 and lose X number of rooms and you take into that the viability question, throw in that the [Canadian] border is closed, who knows when that will open up,” he said.
“There’s a lot of things to consider by the tribe.”
He said the “skyrocketing” cost of construction has added 20 percent to 30 percent to the project’s cost.
“When that comes down to normal, that will have to mesh with these permit application pieces,” he said.
The tribe purchased the initial .65-acre parcel from the city of Port Angeles as surplus property in December 2018 for $950,000, which included $650,000 for environmental cleanup at the site, which had included a garage that housed an oil and gas company.
The tribe has spent more than $650,000 on cleanup, Peters said.
“We are way over it,” he added.
Peters is awaiting the results of tests on a monitoring well in the middle of Railroad Avenue that the tribe is responsible for that was vacuumed out Thursday.
“It’s all part of the cleanup and getting a no-further-action letter from Ecology,” he said, adding that wells on the hotel property have all passed the test of four consecutive quarters not exceeding state law standards.
Once completed, the hotel is expected to create 65 jobs that will generate $1.9 million in wages annually, according to the conditional use application.
Peters said construction will still take 18 months to two years, but could not guess when that might start on the mid-downtown parcel, which has been cleared of buildings and fenced but void of activity for several months.
“This has been frustrating at times, but we are starting to make some progress in moving this forward, especially with the switch part,” Peters said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]