Rezone, aggregation considered for Russell Museum’s future expansion
The C.M. Russell Museum and Trigg C.M. Russell Foundation are asking the city to rezone and aggregate some parcels as they go through a master plan process and consider expansion.
During their Feb. 25 meeting, the city planning board will consider a request to rezone properties on the north side of 5th Avenue North, across from the museum.
The museum has operated since the 1930s when the artist’s log cabin studio and gallery addition opened as the Russell Memorial, according to the city staff report.
For years, the museum foundation has owned all of the properties across the street with the exception of 1221 5th Ave. N.
Last spring, the owners of that property indicated they were interested in selling and the museum purchased the property so it now owns the entire north side of 5th Avenue North between 12th and 13th streets.
With funding from the Great Falls Development Authority, the museum conducted an environmental site assessment last year and determined none of the existing properties on the north side of the block were viable for museum use. The museum worked with NeighborWorks Great Falls to see if the homes could be stabilized and moved, but that option would have been cost prohibitive, according to museum officials. The houses were demolished in December.
The museum is requesting to rezone those properties from residential and neighborhood commercial to match the museum’s zoning of PLI Public Lands and Institutional.
The PLI zoning district would allow for the expansion as well as the proposed use of a preparatory studio for the museum at the property addressed as 1125 5th Ave. N., according to the staff report.
The museum is also asking to aggregate those properties and vacate 5th Avenue North between 12th and 13th Streets to be able to incorporate that area into future expansion.
Vacation of right-of-way decisions are made only by the City Commission, which will consider that request when the zoning and aggregation requests go to the commission, according to the staff report.
In the future, the museum will seek to reroute several utilities to prepare for future expansion, according to the city staff report.
City staff are recommending approval of the zoning and aggregation.
“Even though there are several uses listed as permitted or conditional in the PLI zoning district that would need to be evaluated for impacts to the neighborhood, the proposal that has been brought forth from the applicant to expand the museum, create parking and greenspace, and establish a preparatory studio is clearly compatible with the neighborhood.,” according to the staff report.
Christina Horton, marketing and events manager for the Russell museum, told The Electric in November that for the short-term, sod will be laid in the spring and benches and picnic tables will be added to make block primarily greenspace.
“The C.M. Russell Museum is a premiere cultural center in our community, Montana, and the American West. We are challenging ourselves with this new space to reimagine our campus in a way that ensures our facility reaches its full potential,” said executive director Thomas Figarelle in November. “While we cultivate those plans, the home of Charlie Russell will get a new backyard.”
Planning for the expansion is began in last fall with a Campus Master Plan Task Force, Horton said, which is co-chaired by the Russell’s board secretary and local resident Anne Martinex and Steve L’Heureux of L’Heureux Page Werner Architecture. The task force has 15 members comprised of museum board, staff and community members. They began meeting in October and Horton said they’ll draft a plan to be formally considered by the museum’s board in 2020.
L’Heureux was the architect on the museum’s last expansion that opened in 2001, Horton said.
The museum is filed as a non-profit but still pays property taxes.
For 2019 alone, the Museum will pay about $14,000 in property tax. The additional properties as well as the prospective addition of 5th Avenue North, between 12th and 13th Streets will increase the taxable property the Museum covers annually, according to the museum.