Council of Councils discusses Madison Food Park; Council 4 joins Council 5 in asking city to study potential impact

Members of Neighborhood Council 5 asked members of the city’s other eight councils during the Oct. 29 Council of Councils meeting to sign on to their resolution asking the city to study the potential impact of the Madison Food Park.

“This conversation is a call to action,” Eric Ray, Council 5 chairman, said during the meeting.

Council 5 voted during their Oct. 21 meeting to adopt a resolution requesting that the city formally evaluate the proposed Big Sky Cheese and Madison Food Park.

Neighborhood Council 5 asks city to study potential impact of proposed Madison Food Park

The council’s area borders the eastern city limit line and would the close to the proposed food park complex. The council’s northern boundary is 10th Avenue South, the eastern and southern boundaries are the city limit line and the western boundary is 20th Street South.

Neighborhood Council 4 adopted the resolution at their Oct. 24 meeting and the other council’s said Tuesday that they’d put the matter on the agenda for their November meetings.

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Ray said he and his council members were frustrated at being told by city staff that it was county business.

The proposed Madison Food Park includes Big Sky Cheese, which was recently approved with 17 conditions by the county’s Zoning Board of Adjustment. The project is in the county’s jurisdiction and under state law, the city has no role in the decision making for the permitting process.

County ZBOA approves Big Sky Cheese permit, with conditions

If built as proposed, the overall food processing complex, would draw increased truck traffic and add up to 3,000 jobs, according to the original application to the county.

All of the permitting decisions fall under the county jurisdiction, but the impact would likely be felt in the city limits. In their resolution, the council route that a project of that scale could impact infrastructure and emergency services, as well as school, social services, housing and the environment.

Big Sky Cheese on Aug. 28 county zoning board agenda

Sandra Guynn, of Council 4 chaired the Oct. 29 Council of Councils meeting and initially would not allow public comment on the resolution saying it was not a public hearing.

Typically, any agenda item for a city board or commission is subject to public comment and the City Commission allows five minutes for any item on their regular meeting agendas.

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Brett Doney of the Great Falls Development Authority said he wanted it noted for the minutes that the council was denying his right to offer public comment. Guynn then allowed him to comment.

Doney said GFDA encouraged the city to study the impact but asked that the phrase “adversely affected” be changed and that they study the facts without making judgments in advance.

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He said the Meadow Gold Dairy in downtown Great Falls was larger than the proposed cheese plant and had been in the community for years without issue.

Doney said the resolution sent a message to any potential business or entreprenuer that they would be pre-judged and would be less likely to locate in Great Falls.

Roughly a dozen members of the public attended the meeting, several of whom were students and several current and prospective members of the City Commission as well as city staff were in attendance.

Guynn said that “there’s nothing of a huge magnitude that can come to this city and be 100 percent positive…that’s not what the resolution is about. We can’t sit here and pretend that negative things won’t happen.”

City Commissioner Mary Moe said she was speaking for herself and not as a commission but took issue with Ray’s remarks that the city never does anything positive.

Cheese processing plant proposed as first part of Madison Food Park; application submitted to Cascade County planning

She said she’s trying to find out where the appropriate place is for the city to make comment on the proposed food park and that if the city has no role in the decision making process, perhaps the study isn’t worth the expense.

Moe said the ZBOA’s conditions had allayed some of her personal concerns about the proposed project, but the fact that the company had appealed nine of them was concerning to her.

Lanni Klasner, the city’s communication specialist and Neighborhood Council coordinator, said that city planners regularly meet with the county planning division to keep up to date on projects that may impact the city as well as the growth policies.

Councils 1, 2 and 3 did not attend the Council of Councils meeting.