Milwaukee Station proposal going to Aug. 18 public hearing
City Commissioner voted unanimously during their July 21 meeting to send a requested zoning change for the Milwaukee Station project to a public hearing on Aug. 18.
A tax abatement request from the developers, Big Sky Select Properties, will go before the commission on Aug. 4.
Since the original proposal was submitted to the city, the designs for the project have changed a bit and the developers are now proposing to build a 112-unit market rate apartment complex with a two-story, 10,000 square foot area of commercial space that will be lightly attached to the existing Milwaukee Station Depot building located at 101 River Drive N.
The development group, which owns the 3.385 acre Milwaukee Station property and the 1.3 neighboring acres to the northeast of the historic building, is requesting that both properties be rezoned from M-2 mixed use transitional to C-4 central business core.
The commission will also consider access and utility easements through city parks during the meeting. The city Park and Recreation department is supporting the easements.
The commercial space will potentially include a dining area with several restaurants and a wine bar, as well as a potential fitness gym.
The commercial spaces would be open to the public, not just apartment residents, according to the developer.
The depot is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a site rated as “Primary” within the city’s Railroad National Register District. The applicant has stated that they will try to conform to the standards and guidelines set forth by the Department of the Interior in regard to additions to properties that are on the National Register.
Jolene Schalper of the Great Falls Development Authority said the agency supports the project.
“This project is excellent for Great Falls,” she said.
There was no other public comment about the project during the meeting.
The city planning board/zoning commission voted in May to recommend approval of the project.
The city-county Historic Preservation Advisory Commission reviewed the project in March.
Commissioner Mary Moe said she was concerned about parking and traffic as well as whether the developer would follow the federal guidelines for a historic building.
Commissioner Rick Tryon asked for more maps showing the proposed easements. He said he was generally supportive of the project but had some questions about the developer’s application for tax abatement.
Craig Raymond, city planning director, said he had some discomfort with the parking, but the community has had numerous discussions about parking requirements for development.
He the applicants need to know they’ll have to provide adequate parking and not rely on public facilities, particularly for that location.
“It makes me a little bit nervous, but I think they’re going to do a good job, I think they know what they need and I think they’ll supply it,” Raymond said.
The developers have asked to expand the downtown tax increment financing district to include Milwaukee Station, but Raymond said that would require a blight study and the process is set by state law. He said blight isn’t how he would describe the property to it’s not likely that the expansion of the TIF would work in this case.
For a tax abatement, the developers would still pay their base taxes and then a lower level of taxes, that increased each year, during a five-year period. Raymond said staff encourages developers to ask for those abatements early in the process and that the commission adopted criteria for considering abatements several years ago.