Fox Farm easement set for commission decision on Dec. 5
On Dec. 5, City Commissioners will once again discuss zoning at the Fox Farm intersection.
Several business property owners at that intersection, including Billings Holdings, had requested that the area be rezoned to C-2 General Commercial to provide greater flexibility for development in the area and it would be a zoning that fits what’s already there.
Billings Holdings is Town Pump’s parent company and proposing to build a 90-room hotel at that intersection.
Due to numerous complaints from neighbors and citizens about the rezone, particularly related to traffic and the potential for additional casinos, 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.
PUDs allow the city to add restrictions that can’t be done in a straight zoning change. 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.
The developer hasn’t been able to acquire the easement and have requested that the city amend the PUD to drop the easement requirement since without it, the city cannot issue any building permits under the current PUD.
Staff are recommending that the easement requirement stand.
During their Oct. 24 meeting, the Planning Advisory Board voted to recommend that the City Commission remove the easement requirement.
In staff’s opinion, the easement was a key part in mitigating traffic, city planning director Craig Raymond told commissioners.
During the first reading of the change at the Nov. 7 commission meeting, Jeni Dodd told commissioners that they should follow staff’s advice because they’re professionals trained in planning and development.
“Their recommendation should hold quite a bit of weight, I would think,” Dodd said.
No one else spoke regarding the Fox Farm rezone during the Nov. 7 meeting.
The planning board voted 8-1 to recommend removal of the easement requirement because they had originally voted in January to approve the project and the easement wasn’t a condition; the board found that there was no study that says requiring the easement would not be injurious to the traffic issue on Alder Drive and Fox Farm Road; the board found no evidence to suggest that having three approaches into this hotel is insufficient; the board had no evidence, other than the two traffic studies, that says that the number of trips generated by this hotel does not impact the Morrison Maierle traffic study.; the findings of fact were in place at the time the Board approved it and those findings were not been refuted by the testimony of the city staff; the city has not proved that there is a need for a fourth entrance to this project.
On Dec. 5, city staff will again recommend that the easement requirement remain. They said during the planning board meeting that the requirement was known to the application and not contested, “nor did the applicant qualify its acceptance of the condition with language that purchase price of the easement be reasonable, according to the staff report.
Staff contends the easement is important to provide another option for access to the hotel property and improve traffic safety in the area.
A traffic impact study was prepared by Morrison Maierle and submitted to the Montana Department of Transportation, which accepted the study. The study was also submitted as part of the PUD revision. The study found that the hotel will have a small impact on traffic in the area. Staff pointed out that the study also noted that the intersection already has a level of service rating ranging from C to E. Level of Service D is acceptable for street intersections, but if the rating falls, and it’s already an E on two-northbound approach lanes, the intersection could need additional work to reduce congestion.
Staff also has concerned with future growth in the area and the potential to lose the access from Alder Drive should the current or future owners of the Chinese restaurant block the access. The property is currently for sale.