Do you subscribe to Superintendent Tammy Lacey’s newsletter? It’s called Tammy’s Top 10 on Tuesday. If you’re interested in public education in Great Falls, you should.
Not only does it have an alliterative title, it also contains a lot of useful, interesting information. One item that got my attention in yesterday’s letter was the third heading under point #4 about the Facility Project Update:
“The Board will also take final action at the Board meeting on Thursday to purchase property contiguous to GFHS on the corner of 20th Street and 2nd Ave. S. Bond proceeds will be used for this purchase as well as any related improvements to it. The bond language, approved by a majority vote, outlined approved expenditures to include, “…acquiring property contiguous to or in the vicinity of the Great Falls High School campus for additional parking.” Given the parking issues at GFHS, GFPS will continue to look for other properties to purchase.”
That’s the School District’s plan to solve the parking problem at GFHS. The District wants to buy up homes with bond money, raze them, and then convert the land into surface parking lots. According to the District, they are short 300-400 parking spaces for GFHS. Assuming a single lot can supply 20 parking spaces, that’s potentially 15-20 individual lots, not an insignificant number. This raises an issue I wrote about previously with the Campfire building:
“[The] property is currently a non-conforming use on a lot which is zoned R-3, Single Family Residential. Under the District’s plan the property would have to be rezoned and the immediate neighbors might not be too pleased.”
Look at this zoning map. Everything surrounding GFHS is zoned either R-3 or R-5. Can parking lots be built within R-3 or R-5 zoning? Not according to the City’s land use code (see p. 5).
So….. what about the zoning?
What if the residents who live in the area decide they would rather live next to the single family properties that they always have? What if these same residents object to the idea of high school kids zooming in and out of parking lots right next to their homes? What if they organize and mobilize against rezoning requests at the Neighborhood Council and Planning Board levels? What if the City considers all of this, and then determines that it simply is not in the best interests of the neighborhood to dice it up with a smattering of parking lots? What if the City decides that the land use code was implemented for a reason, and that it should be adhered to and followed? What if Craig Raymond and Tom Micuda and City staff DON’T rejoice at the prospect of littering the City grid with spot-zoned parking lots, one after another….. after another….. after another?
In other words, what if the City tells the School District, “No”?
It’s amazing to me that this is the District’s stated approach. Let’s say you wanted to buy a property, and you wanted to buy it with X purpose in mind, only the property is zoned for Y. Would you expend your time, money, and resources to purchase the property with the hope that the City will bend its rules for you? (Now, assume you also have to repeat this process 15-20 additional times.) Or, would you search for alternative solutions?
To be fair, the School District has mitigated its (and our) financial risk by negotiating a rezoning contingency into the Buy/Sell. But what if the City approves the Campfire rezone, only to deny subsequent applications? The District would have spent probably close to $200,000 for one spec-sized parking lot that won’t come close to solving the actual problem.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the School District needs to think VERTICALLY on this, not laterally.