County approves heavy industrial rezone; tax increment funds for infrastructure
Last week, County Commissioners rezoned a 13-acre property near Giant Springs State Park from light to heavy industrial in a 2-1 vote.
Commissioners held a public meeting the week prior and no members of the public made comments. One resident submitted an email to the county expressing opposition to the rezoning.
The property is currently owned by Albert Kunesh who has a buy-sell agreement with Charles Mesler and they are requesting the zone change. It neighbors a 13-acre parcel that the commission rezoned from light to heavy industrial earlier this year.
Commissioner Jane Weber voted against both rezoning requests due to concerns of zone creep.
When the county changes zoning of a property, it can allow neighboring properties to change to a similar zoning, “kind of as a domino affect,” she said. In this particular area, many properties are zoned light industrial but some are heavy and now these combined 26 acres are also heavy industrial.
“We, as a county, know that we need some additional heavy industrial opportunity,” Weber said, but said she’s concerned the area near the city’s industrial park, the railroad and Giant Springs park will change over to heavy industrial “without a lot of planning involved.”
“I hope in future that we begin to take a concerted look at zoning changes as a whole,” Weber said, to provide heavy industrial areas in a more organized fashion.
Commissioner Joe Briggs said the county tried to create an industrial area years ago, but it was stopped by the Montana Supreme Court.
“Where you want industrial is not in the middle of a city. You want industrial in the middle of nowhere,” Briggs said. “Our effort to do that was deemed illegal.”
Commissioner Jim Larson said he agreed with Weber’s concerns about zone creep, but in this case wasn’t worried since the lots are smaller and the rezone is needed for existing businesses to continue their operations.
“I’m okay with this one,” he said. “If this was a whole solid thing of heavy industrial I might have a different thought.”
The 13-acre property that was just rezoned is currently being rented to Jason Nichols Sprinklers, which installs lawn and garden sprinkler systems and provides landscaping design and construction.
Mesler said during a July meeting that he’s looking to do more development with businesses moving out of the city based on zoning decisions, such as the recent City Commission denial of a conditional use permit for M&D Construction.
The commission approval starts a 30-day protest period before the rezone is finalized, according to the county planning office.
The property borders a 13-acre parcel that was recently rezoned from I-1 to I-2.
The rezone will allow the sprinkler company to expand their business activities and allow for future industrial growth in the area, according to the application. It will also help the company bid on contracts, a similar issue that the neighboring property owners faced when government contracts required a heavy industrial zoning.
In April, County Commissioners finalized the rezoning of an adjacent parcel along the railroad track from I-1 to I-2.
The property owner requested that zone change after bidding on a contract that required his business be in a heavy industrial area, according to county planners.
During the same meeting last week, commissioners approved the use of the existing balance of tax increment financing funds in the Manchester Exit lndustrial District for public improvements.
The TIF district, which was created by the county in 2007, currently has a balance of $63,475.76.
The boundaries of the TIF district include 100 acres of land and initially, developer Dave Campbell, developed a portion. Campbell has now sold enough of the original lots to continue with the next phases, requiring additional infrastructure to be installed and making repairs to some of the existing infrastructure, according to the county.
Campbell has requested to use the TIF funds for projects including the extension of gas lines; installation of an additional 10,000 gallon fire cistern; permitting costs; surveying; engineering; lighting; paving of roadways and some miscellaneous costs directly related to the expansion of the infrastructure
Briggs said that the base taxable value of the property is $3,217. The increment added was $65,529 due to the development and improvements, so the TIF is generating about $25,500 annually and the taxable value us now $30,000 annually.
“It was bare dirt when we started this TIF process,” Briggs said. “This is how the TIFs are supposed to work.”
The county disbursed about $167,000 of TIF funds last year in the Manchester district, which expires in 2022.