Fox Farm rezone going back through city process; easement has not been acquired

The Fox Farm rezoning that was approved by the City Commission in May is going back through the development process.

Earlier this year, several business owners in the area of the intersection with 10th Avenue South/Country Club Boulevard at Fox Farm Road requested that the area be rezoned from C-1 Neighborhood commercial district to C-2 General commercial district. Due to substantial community concern, the City Commission requested that Planned Unit Development be considered to allow the city to include some prohibitions on certain uses, specifically casinos, and address traffic safety concerns.

Deputy planning director Tom Micuda said the PUD allows the city to add restrictions that can’t be done in a straight zoning change.

Part of this rezoning process was related to plans for Town Pump to build a new 90-room hotel in the vacant lot next to Dahlquist Realtors.

One on the conditions of the PUD approval was that the hotel developer get an easement from the owners of the Chinese restaurant to allow for a secondary access point to the proposed hotel site.

That easement has not been acquired and the hotel developers are now going back through the city process to request that the condition be removed from the PUD approval.

The access in question is off Alder Drive between the Dairy Queen and Chinese restaurant.

Micuda said that access is being used currently by many who visit businesses in that area, but to make it legal, the hotel developers needed to get an easement from the Chinese restaurant.

That driveway is used now, but the land use could change and block the access.

“They have complete control of that access,” Micuda said of the Chinese restaurant property owners.

The conversation between the developer and the owners of the Chinese restaurant property have ceased, according to city officials and the developers.

Under the current PUD, the hotel developers cannot proceed with construction plans without the easement and are requesting that the condition be dropped.

Since it’s a major change to the PUD, the city planning department treats the request as a new application and the request will go to the Planning Advisory Board/Zoning Commission on Oct. 24 at 3 p.m. and then back to the City Commission.

Tentatively, the proposal is scheduled for a first reading at the Nov. 7 City Commission meeting and a vote during the Dec. 5 meeting.

Micuda said the easement was required as a condition to create a second access point to increase traffic safety in the area, though they don’t anticipate high traffic for the hotel project.

Joe Murphy, the project manager with Big Sky Civil and Environmental, said the traffic impact study for the hotel demonstrated that the easement was not needed to fulfill entrance and exit requirements. The study was approved by the Montana Department of Transportation, Murphy said, but “our client still attempted in good faith to negotiate and secure an easement. After several months, the negotiations failed.”

Micuda said city staff are recommending that the easement remain a condition of the PUD, but it’s up to the planning board and then the City Commission to make the determination.

“We think the second access makes it more safe,” Micuda said.

Micuda said the other traffic improvements in the vicinity of the project are moving forward, including extending the left turn lane from Fox Farm into the Lucky Lil’s access point. That will allow up to three vehicles to get into the turn lane instead of the single vehicle that can barely make the maneuver in the current intersection layout. It would also make more time for drivers to signal and enter the turn lane, since currently its abrupt and trailing vehicles often swerve to avoid the turning vehicle.

The city and developers are continuing to work with MDT to shift the gas station driveway to the south to improve the turning traffic pattern.

Micuda and Murphy visited Neighborhood Council 1 last week to update them on the project and the proposed change to the PUD. The city also sent letters to property owners within 150 feet of the proposed hotel.

Neighborhood Council 1 initially supported the project, but as more residents became aware there was more opposition to the proposal.