City board denies, potentially delays decision on plan for apartments at Dick’s RV Park

The city planning board reviewed a request during their Dec. 13 meeting to rezone the Dick’s RV Park property in order to build a 513-unit apartment complex.

The board moved to approve the zone change, but then a few wanted to push the decision until after the neighborhood council meeting.

Instead of amending or withdrawing the motion, they voted 3-3, meaning the rezone failed.

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The board then voted to table the request during their Jan. 10 meeting.

Staff is reviewing whether the board can table an item they already took action on.

Even if they can’t the City Commission will review the request for final approval.

Neighborhood Council 1 met Dec. 13 and voted 3-1 to support the project, according to city staff.

The applicant, Craig Development out of North Dakota, has requested to rezone the roughly 15-acre property from R-10 Mobile Home Park to R-6 Multi-family High Density.

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The property includes two parcels, one is 14.8 acres, which is Tract 2, and the other is 1.9 acres, Tract 1.

The applicant is under contract to purchase the property pending the zone change and subdivision requests.

If the rezone is approved, the developer plans to build River’s Edge Apartments, with 513 apartment units on Tract 2 and a clubhouse.Dicks RV park rendering

Tract 1 borders the Sun River and would be used only as a park with outdoor amenities, according to the staff report. That parcel can’t be developed due to floodplain restrictions, according to staff. A portion in the northwest corner of Tract 2 is also in the floodplain and any construction in that area would have to comply with floodplain restrictions.

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The existing campground use isn’t allowed in the R-10 zoning district, but is considered a legal, non-conforming land use since that’s how it’s been used for decades.

The applicant is proposing to construct five buildings with a main level of parking and four levels of housing above.

The complex would be accessed from 13th Avenue Southwest, which is the same street that currently provides access to the RV park, according to staff.

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The city used its third party engineering firm, Sanderson Stewart, to conduct a traffic study on the impact the proposed development would have on local traffic infrastructure.

The developer has asked the Montana Department of Transportation to allow for emergency access from 6th Street Southwest into the east side of the property where there’s currently a 12-foot wide pathway that connects the RV park to a multi-use trail that runs along 6th Street Southwest, according to staff.

MDT has approved the emergency access, but the access has yet to be designed and that would need MDT and city approval.

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The emergency access is required by fire code and is a condition of approval for the rezoning request, according to city staff, as well as working with Great Falls Fire Rescue for accessibility from Fire Station 4, which is currently blocked by a narrow, raised median.

The project would also require extension of the nearby water main and sanitary sewer, and stormwater management.

Staff recommended approval of the rezone, despite it being noncontiguous to other lots with the same zoning designation because:

  • the property is already zoned R-10, which currently allows a different form of multi-unit development, the current use of the property is also a different form of higher density housing;
  • the property borders an active rail line, two extremely busy roadways, and commercially zoned property to the south. This makes low density residential development less attractive;
  • although the property borders two very busy roadways, there is no ability to access these roadways for anything other than emergency service. This lack of easy access makes nonresidential development much less feasible.

The traffic study determined that the project would generate more traffic at key intersections, including the exit ramps off of Country Club Boulevard and 14th Street Southwest, as well as the intersection of 14th Street Southwest and 13th Avenue Southwest, but the future capacity results are very similar to the existing conditions, according to staff.

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The traffic study concludes estimated that about 2,329 gross trips could be generated daily and recommended that stop signs be located on site from the proposed apartment complex as drivers will be turning onto 13th Avenue Southwest.

Andrew Finch, the city’s transportation planner, said staff would monitor the traffic in the area if the development is constructed, and make future traffic control modifications if necessary.

The developer also requested to subdivide Tract 2 for phasing and financial purposes. The planning board didn’t vote on that request but tabled it to their Jan. 10 meeting.

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Robert Osowski, with Woith Engineering, told the board they’re planning to start construction this summer and will try to maintain as many existing trees as possible.

Joe Murphy of Big Sky Civil Engineering said he didn’t oppose development but had concerns with traffic for the project since his office is along the access road to the proposed apartment complex.

No one else spoke in opposition to the project.

The Great Falls Development Authority spoke in favor of the project.

There was no other public comment.

Several members of the planning board asked to know what other sites the developer considered, but staff said that’s outside their purview and they can only consider the request before them.

Dave Bertelson, board chair, said he’s pro-development and the city has a severe need of housing, but that he’d like to see development other than apartments on the property.

Tory Mills, board member, said if the zoning stays the same, the property owner could turn it into a trailer park, which isn’t a better choice for the property.