County denies road abandonment; conditionally approves Loenbro’s early loan payoff

County Commissioners voted to deny a road abandonment request during their Tuesday morning meeting.

Larry Hill requested the abandonment of a portion of 32nd Avenue South, between 18th and 19th Streets South, in an effort to build a house on his property on the south side of the road and clean up the area.

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The parcels on the north side of the road are owned by three different people and county staff indicated concerns related to access to the middle property since the only access would be from the narrow alley.

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Staff and commissioners also expressed concern related to emergency vehicle access should anything happen in the area.

The alley is about 20 feet wide and there are often vehicles parked there, which “creates an obstruction,” said Michael Stone, a county planner.

Other than Hill, no one spoke during the public hearing and Stone said the county had not received any written comment on the requested abandonment.

All three commissioners visited the area on separate visits, though Commissioner Jim Larson was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

Commissioner Jane Weber said when she visited with planning staff there were cars parked in the alley, but it was tight getting through.

“That alley is very, very narrow,” she said, and noted that she wasn’t sure a fire engine could get through.

Commissioner Joe Briggs said he went to look at the area twice since he’d like to improve the viability of development for the area, but agreed with staff’s concern on public safety access.

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Briggs said he’d like to approve the road abandonment, but limited access to the other lots is currently “unacceptable.”

Weber said she’d like to see this work, but the impact to access “worries me down the road if there was an emergency out there.”

Briggs asked county planning staff to look at narrowing the right of way on 32nd Avenue South or some other solution to give Hill more options for building on his property, in terms of set backs and other code requirements.

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Commissioners also voted to approve the purchase of a $139,565 snow blower, a large piece of equipment that can be attached to front loaders and move snow in areas of significant drifting.

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Commissioners also approved a $522,281.45 contract with United Materials for the reconstruction of South Manchester Road.

The bid came in about $64,000 under engineering estimates, Deputy Public Works Director Les Payne told commissioners on Tuesday.

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Weber said the work would start in the spring.

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South Manchester Road was damaged during the June flooding in Cascade County and the reconstruction is being funded in part by state emergency funds and the special emergency disaster two mills that commissioners included in this year’s budget. Those mills will generate about $132,000, according to the county.

Commissioners also conditionally approved contracts related to an agreement with Loenbro, which has paid off its Montana Board of Investments loan early and the property will revert to Loenbro ownership.

The MBOI loans relate to infrastructure and the company’s expansion. The loan was issued in 2015, with the county serving as the municipal pass through, so during the loan, the county assumes ownership of the property, though Loenbro always owned the land. Loenbro paid a special use tax on the property, which equated to what they would have paid in property taxes, Briggs said.

Loenbro has expanded into several other states with their headquarters in Cascade County and the company is paying back the loan early.

“This is exactly how the program is supposed to work,” Briggs said. “This is a job creation effort.”

Loenbro was the first time the county used MBOI loans, but the program was used by the City of Great Falls in recent years for the ADF expansion.

Loenbro is finalizing some aspects of the transaction and the county’s approval is contingent on receiving written confirmation of the MBOI loan payoff.