Armory

Construction at the Armory approaches completion in this Feb. 12 photo in downtown Bozeman.

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Saying it was too late to change things, Bozeman commissioners sided with the downtown armory hotel developer who asked to keep its walls as built, despite not meeting city rules.

With a unanimous vote late Monday, the Bozeman City Commission allowed the near-complete hotel to wrap up as its developer planned, saying changing at this stage in construction could be an undue hardship for the hotel owner and a public safety risk.

That overturned a decision by the city’s director of community development last month, who told the developer to bring the building’s exterior closer in line with city rules.

The issue hinged on whether the hotel at 24 West Mendenhall would have to find a way to cover up building material on its outer walls known as EIFS, or exterior insulation and finishing systems.

Bozeman rules say that material can’t cover more than 25% of new buildings’ walls, which Mayor Chris Mehl said is because it has a reputation for being cheap and not holding up well.

Roughly 53% of the armory hotel’s walls are wrapped in EFIS.

The development’s project manager, Cory Lawrence, appealed having to make changes, arguing Bozeman’s building department approved the plan in 2015. He said the material was applied to the new hotel in a way to last and the finished product will be a 4-star hotel that adds value to downtown Bozeman.

Mehl said commissioners don’t lightly overturn staff decisions.

“We own some responsibility in how this came about,” Mehl said.

The final site plan for the hotel was approved in 2014. But the next year, the developer submitted updated building plans to Bozeman’s building department that increased how much EIFS went on the hotel.

While the building department approved that request, city officials have said it looks like the change never went before the city’s planning department.

City staff didn’t notice the disconnect until the project was already nearly complete.

Community Development Director Marty Matsen asked the developer to submit a plan to get as close to the required percentage as possible with a “combination of effects.”

Matsen said his goal was “to be not only fair to developers but to be fair to the community and to adhere to our city code.”

Lawrence said any effort to do that would be expensive and additions over the EFIS wouldn’t be stable. He said the material could fall from the nine-story building and land where people walk.

Aside from safety, city commissioners said the project included a mix of colors and designs that worked with the historic and restored armory, which serves as the base of the hotel. It was abandoned and boarded up before the development.

They also said the issue was unique and unlikely to reoccur.

“We have systems in place now that would not allow what happened in 2015 to happen again,” Deputy Mayor Cyndy Andrus said.

City planners weren’t the only ones who tried to change the hotel’s final look.

Commissioners rejected an appeal Monday from a condominium board representing residents at 5 West. That appeal sought to overrule the approval of mechanical units on the old armory’s rooftop and the positioning of exterior lights.

On Monday, the condominium owners said they were told a pool and garden would be their home’s view, but instead there’s a cluster of machines that they said will cause too much noise, look ugly and harm their property values. The residents said they never got to weigh in on the change until it was outside their windows since the developer didn’t go through the planning department.

City commissioners said noise and machines should be expected downtown and said the area will have to fall in line with the city’s lighting and screening requirements.

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Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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