City planning board OK’s annexation, zoning for 48-unit apartment complex on Skyline Drive

The city planning board unanimously voted to recommend approval of annexation and zoning for a proposed 48-unit apartment complex on a 2.15 acre parcel on the corner of Skyline Drive Northwest and 6th Street Northwest.

The developer, Skyline Heights, LLC, is proposing four 12-plex multi-family buildings to be built in phases over multiple years.

48-unit apartment complex proposed for Skyline Drive

The board also voted to recommend that R-6 multi-family high density zoning. The property is adjacent to the city limits on the south and east.

The annexation and zoning next goes to the City Commission.

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Existing single-family homes within the city are located to the east and a city-owned water distribution facility is located to the south, according to the city staff report.

A large tract of land to the north is currently used for agricultural purposes but is anticipated for future annexation and development, according to the city.

The Neighborhood Council and area residents identified traffic as a concern with the project and asked the city to prioritize improving 6th Street Northwest before approving the project.

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That street is classified as a collector street in the city’s transportation network and has long been identified as a substandard roadway that needs to be brought to urban standards.

Andrew Finch, the city’s transportation planner, said that the roadway was designed to rural county standards. Improving the roadway from Smelter to 36th is included in the city’s long range transportation plans and was identified in the 2018 update to the plan as a future project with an estimated $9.6 million price tag.

Finch said that improving the roadway wouldn’t add capacity or add lanes, but would improve the roadway itself, add storm drains and sidewalks.

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Lonnie Hill, the city planner on the project, said that the developer will be required to finance improvements to 6th Street along his property but the city is proposing to delay that until future development occurs since the reconstruction of 6th would be a much larger project. The developer will be required to improve Skyline Drive in front of his property.

Hill said that there are challenges with improving 6th Street Northwest including the scale and cost, but also that portions of the roadway are still in the county, grades of utility depths vary and that the width of rights of way vary along the road.

“It’s a pretty major project,” Hill said.

Hill said the proposed apartment complex would help move the 6th Street improvement project closer to reality in terms of some funding, getting more right of way and improvements to Skyline.

The developer will also extend a 16-inch public water main through the public right-of-way of Skyline Drive NW from the existing 16- inch main to the east and run to the western boundary of the subject property. The improvement is to be owned and maintained by the city upon completion. The city pays the costs associated with upsizing the water main.

The developer will also install a public sanitary sewer main that will extend the existing eight-inch main located near the southeast corner of the city water plant. The line shall run north to the right-of-way of Skyline Drive NW and run west to the western boundary of the apartment property. The improvement is to be owned and maintained by the city upon completion.

Josh Johns, the developer, said that the rents for the complex would range from $850 to $1,200.

Grett Doney of the Great Falls Development Authority said the agency supported the project and that “the need for housing is particularly acute right now.”

Pete Fontana, board chair, said the opposition to the proposed project was similar to what they heard several years ago regarding the apartments now open near the city water tower on 36th. 

During that discussion, traffic and property values were reasonings for opposition.

Fontana said he looked at the property values of properties near those water tower apartments and saw that they have increase.

“In my opinion, there’s just no evidence that the property vales of neighboring properties will suffer,” Fontana said.

One board member asked if the developer could adjust the site plan to make it more aesthetically pleasing, but Craig Raymond, city planning director, reminded the board that the action before them was annexation and zoning, not design elements.