PORT ANGELES — A shoreline permit was approved for the four-story Elwha Hotel, allowing the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe to submit a building permit by July for the central downtown project.
Allyson Brekke gave the go-ahead Friday, her last day as city community and economic development director before she moves to Montana, where she will be the new Gallatin County assistant director for planning and community development in Bozeman.
Michael Peters, the tribe’s hotel project manager, said Monday he was not surprised by the approval, describing it as a milestone.
“Obviously, I’m extremely happy,” he said.
“I knew we were getting there, and I knew it was gong to come relatively soon, so we are extremely pleased that we got it.”
The 80,494-square-foot hotel, described as four-star by Peters, will include a swimming pool as well as a restaurant and kitchen with a combined 3,060 square feet.
A shoreline permit is required because a portion of the planned hotel lies within 200 feet of the shoreline as measured from the ordinary high water mark, subjecting it to shoreline development regulations.
Forty-five feet of the 1.16-acre footprint falls within the Shoreline Master Program’s jurisdiction.
Peters said tribal officials will meet this week with structural engineers to discuss the “foundation package” for the project at 101-111 E. Front St.
“It’s virtually impossible to build a building of this size without some sort of pilings,” Peters said.
The tribe submitted a shoreline substantial development permit application through the State Environmental Policy Act in December 2019 before the height was lowered from 60 feet to 45 feet, removing the need for a zoning conditional use permit and state shoreline variance before resubmitting its application in July.
Former city Public Works Director Craig Fulton, project director at Vanir Construction Management Inc., submitted the shoreline permit for the tribe.
Peters said complications arose while the city amended its building codes, which resulted in increasing the 45-foot building height limit to 75 feet, and a moratorium on surface parking lots the city council lifted in November.
“That started a whole process of questions on what could and couldn’t be done,” Peters said.
City Council member Mike French said Monday the moratorium was lifted following negative public input from the tribe along with First Federal and other businesses.
Peters said plans to provide 36 parking spaces within the interior of the site remain in limbo, with a decision on outside surface parking still up in the air.
“We are working with the Lower Elwha on parking options,” City Manager Nathan West said Monday.
“We continue to be really excited about the project, and we are going to work closely with the Elwha to ensure the project is successful.”
The staff report for the permit, authored by Community Development Manager Emma Bolin, says city-owned parking might be available to the hotel.
Peters suggested options could include the parking garage planned as part of the Anian Shores residential-commercial complex a block west. It would be built on surplus city property that land developer Eric Dupar would buy under a purchase and sale agreement that has been under negotiation for several months.
“There are a ton of parking spots downtown,” Peters said.
“We are exploring all options.”
At least half of the front property lines along Railroad Avenue and Laurel and Front Streets must be abutted by a building or a publicly accessible plaza, square or outdoor dining area, according to the staff report.
The tribe submitted redesigned plans Nov. 16 under which 618 feet of the 640 feet required was proposed for a public plaza, thus meeting the requirement, Bolin said in the report.
The plazas on Laurel and Front Streets and Railroad Avenue must be fully developed when the hotel opens and include signs that indicate the public’s right of access and daylight hours of access at conspicuous locations.
The tribe must submit a building permit withing six months of shoreline permit approval, or the beginning of July, or must restore the lot to full grade and seed it with grass.
“Some day, we’ve got to fill in the gravel hole that’s there,” Peters said.
In October, when the tribe moved a ground-level electrical switch at the site that was compromising efforts to design the hotel, Peters told Peninsula Daily News he hoped to begin construction by this winter.
“In a general sense, our hope is to be able to mobilize sometime in the spring is what I would say now, because here we are in January,” he said Monday. “We’re in the middle of winter.”
Engineering and design of the building is still a work in progress, right down to the hotel lobby’s ceiling height, which could be 8 feet or a more lofty 14 feet, Peters suggested.
Peters was not sure Monday if previous project estimates of $25 million will hold as it gets underway.
“Nothing from a building point of view has changed at this moment,” he said.
“We’ll know in a matter of weeks if anything will be tweaked.”
An appeal of Brekke’s decision must be filed within 15 days of its issuance Friday.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]