GREAT FALLS CITY STAFF, ZONING BOARD AT ODDS OVER FOX FARM DEVELOPMENT

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Civic Center

An interesting new wrinkle in a Fox Farm area planned unit development (PUD) for a hotel complex has city staff at odds with the city planning advisory board/ zoning commission. The proposed ordinance covering the change, Ordinance 3182, comes to the city commission with a negative recommendation from city staff and a positive recommendation from the planning advisory board/zoning commission.

The city commission will consider whether or not to allow a major change to a previously approved Tietjen Triangle Addition PUD at their December 5 meeting. The commission approved the PUD for the dual-branded Mainstay Suites and Sleep Inn hotel building at their May 2 meeting. This will be the last opportunity for public comment on Ordinance 3182, which would eliminate a condition of approval in the PUD.

That particular condition of approval required the applicant, Billings Holdings LLC, to legally secure access from the proposed hotel development site onto Alder Drive. The city incorporated the following language into the PUD document:

“The applicant is required to obtain an access easement through the property legally described as Country Club Addition, Section 14, Township 20 North, Range 3 East, Block 003, Mark 6. This will allow motorists accessing properties in the PUD to legally utilize an already established vehicle circulation point from Alder Drive. Proof of easement, future design of this access, and associated directional signage on Alder Drive and Fox Farm Road must all be approved by the City prior to the issuance of any building permit for the 2.6 acre tract in the PUD.” (Great Falls City Commission Agenda, December 5, 2017).

On October 24, 2017, the planning advisory board/zoning commission recommended the city commission approve the request from the applicant to remove the access easement condition of approval from the PUD. Billings Holdings LLC requested the major change to the PUD because it failed to secure the access easement.

However, Great Falls planning and community development staff recommended that the applicant’s request be denied.

“Staff finds that the applicant has not provided complete or compelling information sufficient to remove a previously approved condition of approval,” (Great Falls City Commission Agenda, December 5, 2017).

The planning advisory board/zoning commission disagreed and by a vote of 8-1, the board supported the applicant’s request and brought it to the city commission. The proposed ordinance seeks to amend a previous ordinance approving the PUD, Ordinance 3152.
It is important to note that the city refers to the applicant’s request to drop the access easement requirement as a MAJOR CHANGE. What does this mean according to the Official Code of the City of Great Falls?

In the OCCGF 17.16.29.100 , Changes in Planned Unit Development, it states that:

“Major changes in the plan of development or supporting data similarly approved shall be considered the same as a new petition, and reapplication shall be made in accordance with the procedures for a new application.”

From my reading of the city code, it would then appear that the applicant must reapply/re-petition for the PUD, since the city has categorized the removal of a condition of approval as a major change. Can the city simply use an ordinance to amend the original ordinance in this case?

It would be helpful if the city included in their documentation why a reapplication/ re-petition is not required or requested. I tried to clarify that with the city commission at the first reading of the ordinance but didn’t get an answer from them.

I don’t have a dog in this fight, either for or against this project, but I do feel that the city commission should follow city zoning codes with all applicants and in all instances, hence my concerns. I’d like to hear from other folks—Do you feel the city commission is following the code on this zoning change?

The December 6 city commission meeting agenda, containing documents pertaining to Ordinance 3179, can be found at:

https://greatfallsmt.net/sites/default/files/fileattachments/city_commission/meeting/packets/126981/agenda_2017_12_5_commission_entire_meeting_packet.pdf

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Jeni Dodd is a creative, multi-faceted, multi-talented, knowledge junkie. She currently utilizes her skills in a variety of business and artistic endeavors. Liberty, integrity, truth and critical thinking are among her most important precepts.

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