Our City Commission seems to be faced with a difficult decision, or as Commissioner Bill Bronson says, “it’s a conundrum.”
Here’s the issue; to vote for a zone change which would allow a four story motel, approximately 50 feet high, close to the 10th Ave S/Fox Farm intersection, or to vote against it in order to stem the proliferation of casinos — although none are immediately proposed — in the same area. The proposed change from a C-1 zone to C-2 zone would only be necessary to increase the allowable height restriction from 35 feet to 65 feet.
Re: Great Falls, Montana Code, Land Development Chapter 20, 17.20.4.020, Exhibit 20-4.
Some say that we don’t need anymore motels and those new jobs aren’t really economic development, or that the potential property tax generated by the project would not decrease our existing residential property taxes. Both of these arguments are false and here’s why. Any project built in Great Falls that provides jobs, both construction jobs and permanent jobs, is economic development, something we sorely need, even if at the very least it replaces jobs we have lost for the past several years. Simple enough to understand.
Also, any project that grows the City tax base lessens the burden on residential tax payers because the cost of government, if it remains somewhat constant, requires smaller contributions from each taxpayer.
Bronson’s “conundrum” that is keeping him awake at night is not a musical instrument, but it can be beaten. If the City Commission is too afraid of casinos, the solution that everyone can live with is a no-brainer and it does not require a zone change, only a project specific height variance for the potential four story motel property. The variance allowed under Chapter 20, 17.16.32.040 would not adversely affect the area since the motel site is a stone’s throw from the tallest building in Great Falls, the Country Club Tower, which itself is eleven stories high.
The existing C-1 zoning would remain intact, require substantially more landscaping and setbacks than a C-2 zone, and not allow additional casino development in the area.
So what’s actually going to happen? According to the Great Falls Tribune, it’s likely Commissioner Bronson will personally intervene to complicate what should otherwise be a simple process:
Bronson recommended that time be used by city planners to develop an alternate “Planned Unit Development” proposal that would give the City of Great Falls greater control over the scope and nature of development in the area.
The problem with this misguided approach lies within the City’s Municipal Code, which states:
“17.16.29.010 – Generally.
A Planned Unit Development may be proposed as a subdivision or as a single development project with multiple buildings involving a homeowners or property owners association.”
The creation of a PUD for a single building with a single owner does not satisfy the intent of the code. In this case, you would have a property owners association for governance of the PUD with one member. If you included all the properties in the existing C-1 zone, it could not be defined as a single development since those properties have already been developed.
By not finding a solution that makes sense and adheres to governing codes, the attitude of the City Commission, particularly Bronson, appears short-sighted and antithetical to City’s adopted 2013 Growth Policy;
Eco3.4.2 Promote a “business friendly” attitude and support the use of an ombudsman role in all facets of business development.
Sure, a PUD district will allow Bronson to position himself as a “compromiser” on a thorny issue, but if government refuses to get out of the way, as Gregg Smith calls for, the obvious compromise here is much simpler: it’s to grant a height variance, not create a single-property PUD.