City approves annexation of 20 acres for 83 homes on southern edge

During their Tuesday meeting, City Commissioners approved the annexation of about 20.5 acres for a NeighborWorks Great Falls project.

The undeveloped land along 20th Street South and 24th Avenue South will be used for an 85-lot subdivision, including at least 50 homes that will be dedicated to the NWGF Mutual Self-Help Program.

City to consider annexation for 85-lot NWGF development on southern edge

Med Tech Addition

The site plan for Meriwether Crossing. Image courtesy City of Great Falls planning department.

The plan includes phases of 10 homes per year to be constructed by the families participating in the self-help program.

The other 33 lots for one- and two-bedroom cottage style homes ranging from 800-1,200 square feet.

One lot will be used for common open space and one will be dedicated to the city for storm water detention.

Meriwether Crossing is adjacent to NWGF’s 124-unit Rockcress Commons which is currently under construction. NWGF broke ground on that project in late September and the first building is scheduled to be ready for tenants by falls 2019 with the estimated completion date for the entire project in December 2019.

Rockcress Commons groundbreaking is Sept. 28

The self-help homes are financed through rural development funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and must be constructed in the county and then annexed into the city upon completion, so the city is executing that in phases through the recording of 10 resolutions. It’s a similar approach to what was used with the Thaniel Addition subdivision on the northern edge of the city. It’s a way the city can work with a developer to meet a housing need within the regulations planners have to follow, said Craig Raymond, city planning director.

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Raymond said there is facet of the project that’s concerning to city staff and that’s public safety and response times as the city continues to expand. He said that for this particular project, which has been dubbed Meriwether Crossing, the concern is mitigated by the multiple access points via city streets, “otherwise we would be having a different conversation.”

Commissioner Tracy Houck asked how the city would mitigate those concerns.

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Raymond said those discussions will have to continue, particularly around budget time since it will likely require additional resources in the form of personnel and a new fire station.

“We’re going to have to take a real hard look,” at the current system, said Great Falls Fire Rescue Chief Steve Hester.

Since the Meriwether Crossing project has multiple points of access on public streets, he said it’s more a matter of response time, which relates to distance.

In looking at a new station, it might not be near Meriwether Crossing since there’s been more development to the north, but any new station would require a holistic review of the entire emergency response system to adjust the locations and response areas for each station.

City Manager Greg Doyon said he’s watching emergency response times carefully, particularly to the extent that stations are backfilling other stations and aren’t able to cover their area.

If the current level of service isn’t acceptable to the commission or the community, the commission will have to start discussing additional resources for public safety, which will be expensive.

Public safety access and response times have been a staff concern for the Wheat Ridge Estates proposed development on the east end of town. That decision was pushed to January.

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No one spoke in opposition to the NeighborWorks project during Tuesday’s meeting. Commissioner Bill Bronson recused himself and all motions related to the project passed 4-0.

During the August planning board meeting, some members of the public expressed concern related to traffic, dust control, schools and sidewalk requirements that would be triggered for several neighboring property owners due to the installation and dedication of 20th Street South as part of the project.

Fred Burow, a former city commissioner, said he didn’t want to install a sidewalk, though it was included in his signed annexation agreement with the city that when the street was imporved, he would have to install a sidewalk.

Another area resident asked during the planning board meeting if Sunnyside Elementary School could accommodate the increased number of students that could come with this development and the neighboring 124-unit Rockcress Commons apartment complex.

City staff contcted Great Falls Public Schools and verified that it’s not at capacity and could accommodate additional future enrollment.

Neighborhood Council 5 also considered the project during an August meeting and had concerns about traffic and small lot sizes. The council voted to not take any action on the item.

Meriwether Crossing was assigned a planned unit development zoning.

The project includes the construction of 20th Street South, 21st Avenue South, 22nd Avenue South, 22nd Street South, 23rd Avenue South and three cul-de-sacs to provide access to the subdivision. Alleys are also shown on the site plan to access lots with detached garages. Those roads and alleys must be built to city standards and become part of the city’s transportation network upon completion.

The subsivision would geenerate about 790 daily trips based on the average trip generation rate for a single family detached housing unit, which is 9.52 trips per occuspied dwelling unit on a weekday, according to the ninth edition of the ITE Trip Generation Manual.