Falls Mechanical moving to downtown building

Falls Mechanical Services is moving into the building formerly owned and occupied by Great Falls Paper and Supply Company at 600 2nd St. S.

On Tuesday, the city zoning commission voted to recommend approval of a conditional use permit for Falls Mechanical’s proposed renovations.

The property is currently zoned as M-2 Mixed-use transitional. In that zoning district, a Contractor Yard Type II land use is permitted with a conditional use permit and fulfillment of any required conditions.

Falls Mechanical is currently located at 400 Central Ave W. and includes plumbing, heating and air-conditioning installation and repair services. Business operations require vehicles and trailers for service calls, a storage area for vehicles and a business office. The move will require site improvements including landscaping; regrading and resurfacing of the currently unimproved back parking area; detention pond and drainage improvements; installation of a privacy fence around the vehicle storage area; and new ADA parking and ramp access into the building.

No exterior modifications to the existing building are planned at this time so the project will not go to the Design Review Board.

The property is about a 37,000 square foot lot with a 17,000 square foot one-story, unreinforced-brick masonry warehouse. The rear of the site facing Park Drive is unimproved.

The property is south of the downtown core in a mixed use neighborhood adjacent to an active railroad. The property is surrounded by professional officers, a salon/school, metal and equipment fabrication business and The History Museum.

In city code, a contractor yard is a place and/or building, or portion of it, that is used or intended to be used by a contractor/builder with one or more of the following: construction material storage, machinery storage or repair, including trucks and heavy equipment, shops and office space.

A type two yard is considered compatible in size and scope with industrial and commercial activities, as opposed to smaller-scale businesses that would have no substantial impacts to a residential neighborhood, according to city staff. 

City staff recommended an additional condition of approval that would require Falls Mechanical to use wooden pickets for their screening fence, but representatives from the company said they’d prefer their proposed chain link with privacy slats.

Ted Corn from Falls Mechanical said “I don’t see a wood picketed fence as being a good option.”

The company has also spoken with their new neighbors in the area and Jeff Christensen said they were comfortable with the chain link option.

Craig Raymond, city planning director, said staff had recommended the wooden fence in an effort to improve the aesthetic of the building and neighborhood.

The zoning commission chose not to add that condition to their recommendation for approval, which passed 5-0. The project will now go to the City Commission for final approval. 

Sandra Rice serves on Neighborhood Council 7, which includes the subject property, and said the council unanimously voted to support the project.

Rice said the wooden fence would invite graffiti, but “I just think it’s a great addition to my neighborhood.”

The city sent letters to property owners within 150 feet of the property and a sign about the public hearing was posted on the site 15 days before the hearing. Staff received no public comment about the project before the meeting.