North 40 applies for variances to city code, Board of Adjustment hearing to be scheuled

Rumors have been circulating on what’s holding up the new North 40 Outfitters store on the former Kmart and Big Bear properties at the corner of 3rd Street Northwest and the Northwest Bypass.

The sale of weapons near a school is not the issue, according to Craig Raymond, city planning director, who also confirmed that with the Great Falls Police Department.

The issue lies largely with the shared parking agreement that was established when Buffalo Wild Wings was being built. During that project in 2014, the city allowed BWW to have less that the minimum parking spaces required in code on its own property because of the shared parking agreement. That’s an accommodation allowed by city code at the discretion of the planning director.

That shared parking agreement runs with the land, regardless of changes in ownership, Raymond said.

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North 40’s initial plans called for outdoor storage in the area that was designated as shared parking with Buffalo Wild Wings, Raymond said.

Since that area must remain available for parking, North 40 wants to use other areas of the parking lot for outdoor storage and displays.

North 40 has also submitted plans that would not meet minimum landscaping requirements in some areas.

Raymond said the city has shown has much flexibility as possible without Board of Adjustment approval on variances.

The city recommended that North 40 apply for variances and on Monday, the company submitted an application for variances from the parking requirement, boulevard area landscaping and general landscaping.

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The city is reviewing the application to ensure it’s complete and will then schedule a Board of Adjustment hearing, though that’s complicated by the two current vacancies and one member who will recuse herself because she’s married to the architect on the project.

The city is currently seeking applicants for those two vacancies.

North 40 is proposing outdoor storage that would take up required parking, Raymond said, which is a violation of code without a variance.

A section of the parking code states, “the required off-street parking shall be for occupants, employees, visitors and patrons. The storage of merchandise, supplies, motor vehicles for sale, or the repair of vehicles on such parking area is prohibited.”

In their variance application, North 40 wrote that it sells products for farm, ranch and recreational use and the sale of such product has historically been accomplished through a combination of outdoor fenced areas and using open but paved areas in connection with events or simply for display purposes.

The shared parking agreement from the Buffalo Wild Wings project “has handicapped the development of the subject property of the applicant,” according to North 40’s application.

According to state records, North 40 purchased the Kmart property in late 2016 and the Big Bear property in January 2018.

The Electric asked North 40 if the company was aware of the shared parking agreement when they purchased the Big Bear property but has not yet received a response.

North 40 has also requested a variance from the code section requiring that at least one canopy type tree shall be planted and maintained in the boulevard section for each 35 lineal feet of street and avenue frontage.

They want the variance, according to the application, to allow for visibility of the store since other developments such as Buffalo Wild Wings, Arby’s and the US Bank branch block the view from the road. North 40 instead proposes to use four “framing” boulevard trees.

Boulevard trees would also impair visibility for their customers driving semis, trucks, pulling trailers or boats, or recreational vehicles attempting to pull into or out of the site, according to the variance application.

City code requires a minimum of interior landscaping that is 15 percent of the gross property area to be developed or redeveloped in a commercial zone. Of that, at least 10 percent of the vehicular use areas must have landscaping. North 40 has asked for variances to the requirement that each interior row of parking spaces terminate in a landscaped island; that landscaped areas within a vehicle use are be bounded by a continuous concrete curb or other similar barrier; and that landscaped islands contain a canopy shade tree, shrubs and/or turf grass.

North 40 has deemed that the landscaping requirements are a hardship since development of neighboring properties and the shared parking agreement. The increase in large vehicle traffic is also a concern in terms of landscaping since the company believes it will hinder maneuverability and visibility.

North 40 also indicates in their variance application that they don’t want to introduce irrigation through paved areas since that can cause ground movement and potholes.

Instead, North 40 is proposing to “address interior landscaping with these realities in mind and strikes a balance between strict code compliance and navigability and safety requirements for the interior traffic in general and large vehicles in particular.”