Planning board recommends approval of 432-unit apartment complex

The city planning board unanimously voted to recommend annexation and zoning for a 432-unit apartment complex at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and 38th Street North.

The planning board reviewed the request from Silver Stone Enterprises during their Oct. 25 meeting and voted to recommend that the City Commission approve the request.

The commission is schedule to consider the request on first reading in November and hold the public hearing on Dec. 6 to make a final decision.

City staff are recommending approval.

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Silver Stone Enterprises submitted a request to annex and assign city zoning to the 15.67 acre property addressed as 3801 2nd Ave. N. located at the northeast corner of 2nd Avenue North and 38th Street North.

A 0.68-acre parcel immediately west of the property is also part of this proposed development project site, but is already within the city limits.

The applicant is proposing to build 12 36-unit apartment buildings for a total of 432 units.

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The project is likely to be built in phases beginning in the northwest corner of the subject property, according to the staff report, and full build out could take about five years.

Kevin May of Big Sky Civil and Engineering told the board that the developer is currently planning three phases for the project with four buildings per phase.

Several area residents attended the meeting and said they had concerns with traffic from the proposed development.

The proposed project is on the corner of 38th Street North and 2nd Avenue North, both of which are minor arterial streets, according to staff.

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“Generally, intersections of higher classification streets are appropriate for higher intensity of use. In this case, the location of a large apartment complex adjacent to these streets is advantageous to connect these residents to the greater surrounding area,” according to city staff.

The developer requested C-1 zoning on the southern portion of the property to allow multifamily housing, which is consistent with city code, and to provide the applicant another option if he adds commercial development along 2nd Avenue North, according to city staff.

All vehicle traffic will enter and exit the site from access points along 38th Street North across from 3rd Avenue South and from 2nd Avenue North at the existing break in the median, according to staff.

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The project will not have vehicle connections to the alley between the proposed apartment complex and the residential properties to the north, according to staff.

On the east side of the project, the developer is required to build and dedicate a right-of-way for a new vehicle turnaround for fire protection and sanitation service connecting 3rd Avenue North and the alley to the south along the eastern property line.

The turnaround will be fenced with no vehicle connection to the development.

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“Although vehicular connectivity is often prioritized to incorporate new projects into the existing street network, both staff and the applicant agreed directing traffic from the apartments onto the minor arterials was beneficial to keep the apartment traffic from using local streets as a shortcut, and keep neighborhood traffic from using the apartment as a shortcut,” according to staff.

Staff is also requiring the applicant to build a pedestrian connection to the 40th Street North sidewalk so future apartment residents will have another walking option to access nearby park and school facilities, according to the staff report.

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The applicant will also extend public water mains and sewer lines according to city standards and those utilities will be owned and maintained by the city upon completion.

The applicant will also be required to construct or reconstruct curbing, sidewalk and boulevard landscaping along 38th Street North and 2nd Avenue North.

Those improvements will be maintained by the developer.

The developer is required to pay for the projects anticipated traffic impact to the intersection of 38th Street North and 2nd Avenue North, unless the Montana Department of Transportation doesn’t authorize improvements to the intersection, according to staff.

A traffic impact study submitted on behalf of the applicant estimates that new southbound left turns on 38th Street will be approximately 10 percent greater in 2027 than if the project was not constructed, and will cause total left turns to exceed the 100 vehicles per hour threshold where dedicated left turn lanes are recommended by the Federal Highway Administration.

The applicant’s contribution shall not exceed $50,000, which is roughly 10 percent of the current cost of improving
the intersection as estimated by the city’s third party engineering consultant.

MDT is still reviewing the applicant’s traffic impact study and may require other improvements for the proposed project.

Several residents said they were worried about the construction limiting their alley space. May, representing the developer, said the width of the existing alley would not be affected and that emergency vehicles and garbage trucks can get through. They said residents in the condos across the alley from the proposed development had been parking on the private property where the development is proposed and that space is not part of the alleyway.

Several people said they didn’t think there was a need for so much housing and asked if the apartments would be low-income.

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A handful of area residents spoke in opposition to the project.

Laura Duffy spoke in favor. She said it would help mitigate the rising cost of living in Great Falls.

She said she was from Great Falls, left for college, and was able to come back and work a remote job because she could afford to live in Great Falls, versus other cities she considered, such as Missoula.

Earlier this year, the Great Falls Development Authority released a study, conducted by the Concord Group, that projected there is demand for about 450 new housing units per year in Cascade County over the next 10 years.

City staff said that the income level of potential renters is not a consideration in land use decisions and that is up to the private developer.

May said that they were still evaluating the rate structure, but that it would likely be similar to that the Arc Apartments, which are currently under construction near Riverview Elementary.

Those apartments range from $1,100 to $1,600.

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The applicant is requesting R-6 multifamily high density zoning for the northern two-thirds of the project site and C-1 neighborhood commercial for the southern third of the site.

The project is proposed for a site that is currently vacant with a commercial county zoning.

To the north of the subject property are existing residences within the city in R-6 and R-3 zoning districts. They range from single-family homes to fourplex condos and apartments and existing single-family residences exist to the east in R-3 zoning.

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“The applicant’s request to establish R-6 zoning on the northern two-thirds of the property aligns with neighboring properties developed to the north of the east-west alley that borders the site to north. This zoning designation meets specific goals and objectives within the City of Great Falls 2013 Growth Policy Update, including encouraging a diverse, safe, and affordable supply of housing in the city. This project will substantially expand the supply of apartment residential opportunities and encourages a variety of housing types and densities so that residents can choose by price or rent, location and place of work,” according to the staff report.