Zone change considered for Milwaukee Station development project
A zoning change will be considered at the May 12 city planning board meeting for the Milwaukee Station property to allow for the development of an 83-unit apartment building as well as commercial spaces.
The mixed-use development is planned for the lot behind Milwaukee Station, including 83 market rate apartments, a wine bar, restaurant, fitness facility and some underground parking.
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The project is being developed by Big Sky Select Properties, the same development group that announced 18 apartments above Mighty Mo Brew Pub in March.
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Project principals Brion and Jason Lindseth and Architect Tim Peterson with LPW Architecture have said the new structure would attach to the existing Milwaukee Station, a historic building, likely with a “light touch.
Better quality residential and dining and entertainment options were among the top priorities from the downtown visioning effort that Peterson’s company was involved with.
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Brion Lindseth said the project would include a wine bar with restaurant space that would feature counters for multiple eateries to have a second location or experiment with different menu options. He said they’d be reaching out to local restaurants first to occupy those spaces.
The wine bar would have seating on the main level overlooking the river and in summer, large overhead doors could open to connect the indoor and outdoor space, they said.
The development team said the project would connect the West Bank area with downtown and add a residential component that’s also convenient to existing parks and the River’s Edge Trail.
The project will also include a rooftop patio “to take advantage of the views of the river,” Peterson said.
The project is made possible through the Opportunity Zone, is a federal economic development program established in 2017 to encourage long-term private investment in low-income communities. The program provides a federal tax incentive for taxpayers who reinvest unrealized capital gains into “Opportunity Funds,” which are specialized investment vehicles dedicated to certain low-income areas called “Opportunity Zones.”
The developers are planning to ask for tax abatement and have requested to expand the downtown tax increment financing district to include the property.
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The developers have requested to change the zoning from M-2 mixed use transitional to C-4 central business core.
City staff is recommending approval of the zone change but not sending the project to the City Commission for final consideration until the easements required for access and utilities through Sight and Sound Park, a city park, are finalized and brought forward concurrently since the higher intensity development needs a second access point to mitigate traffic and emergency response concerns, according to the staff report.
The C-4 zoning would better fit the project for dimension standards, parking and landscape requirements, according to city staff.
The proposed apartment building would be 77 feet. The max height allowed in the M-2 district is 65. The max height allowed in C-4 is 100 feet.
The developers are also looking to reduce the required number of parking stalls in a way that’s consistent with downtown properties.
In the M-2 zoning, the project would require 124 parking stalls unless the applicant submitted a parking study approved by the city’s planning director.
If the C-4 zoning is approved, there would be no minimum amount of parking stalls required.
The developers are planning an underground garage for residents, surface lots for residential and commercial and shared spaces from the existing Milwaukee Depot building parking area.
The developers are also requesting an easement from Great Falls Park and Recreation to add more surface parking on a portion of undeveloped city–owned property just to the north of the vacant lot. The property is a long, narrow swale located between the BNSF Railroad and the Farmer’s Union Insurance building that the developers are proposing to fill in to grade a parking lot.
If the C-4 zoning is approved, it would reduce the landscaping requirements though the developers have indicated they would provide landscaping, according to the staff report.
Currently, the only access to the site is the existing entrance and exit to the Milwaukee Station Depot and it’s very close to the intersection of River Drive and 1st Avenue North.
River Drive is owned and maintained by the Montana Department of Transportation.
The city, developers and MDT has been in discussions regarding a second access to the proposed development to alleviate high traffic.
The developers have proposed using a portion of Sight and Sound Park, a city owned park, that would include a curb cut off River Drive at the northern end of the park and lead directly to the parking lots for the apartment building.
Those discussions are ongoing according to city staff and the developers.
MDT has suggested eliminating the existing approach into the development, or modification into a right-out driveway. The intersection is viewed as a current safety concern and would not be expected to provide safe access to the larger development, according to the city staff report.
“During its preliminary review, MDT concurred with city staff and stated that an additional approach further north is necessary to accommodate the development. The modification of the existing approach, coupled with a new approach much further from the intersection of River Drive and 1st Avenue North, will improve functionality of the intersection even at peak hour. Preliminarily, MDT has determined the existing roadway has sufficient capacity to absorb the additional traffic from the proposed development.
However, the eventual development and any new approach, and approach modification, will need to be reviewed and approved by MDT. A preliminary and abbreviated traffic assessment was provided by the developer for MDT consideration, and is attached to this report for informational purposes,” according to the city staff report.
Staff has also recommended a connection to the trail crossing of River Drive and the tunnel under the railroad tracks and a pedestrian connection along any new access drive.