City approves annexation, zoning for 432-unit apartment complex

City Commissioners unanimously voted to annex and assign zoning for a 432-unit apartment complex at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and 38th Street North.

Commissioners considered the project during a Dec. 6 meeting and held a public hearing on the project.

The city planning board voted in October to recommend approval.

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.

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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 planning to build 12 36-unit apartment buildings for a total of 432 units.

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.

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The neighborhood council voted in favor of the project and staff went back in October to provide more information and answer questions, according to Craig Raymond, city planning director.

Silver Stone Apartments Aug 2022 site plan

Traffic has been the biggest concern, Raymond said, and staff has been working with the developer and the Montana Department of Transportation to address those concerns in fair and reasonable manner.

Raymond said the city can’t expect the apartment developer to fix existing problems because they’re the last ones to show up to the party.

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But the project will have an impact on area traffic and Raymond said the city asked the developer to participate in those costs and they agreed.

Raymond said they don’t know yet what MDT will require through their process.

Some residents of the neighboring condos were accustomed to parking on the private property where the apartments will be constructed, Raymond said, and had concerns about whether they’d still be able to park in the area.

Raymond said the alley will meet city development code and will allow emergency access.

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

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.

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

Jerica Selstad, a local property manager in town, spoke in favor of the project.

She said the community has a significant housing deficiency and “it’s a widescope issue. This project is greatly needed.”

The Great Falls Development Authority and Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce supported the project.

Kirk Timmer, of Silver Stone, said over his years living here, nothing has happened on the lot they’re planning to develop.

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He said they could have put more density on the lot, but because they’re a local company, left green space, where a larger non-local company would only care about the bottom line and would have added more units.

Bill Stuff, the project architect, said “we’re gonna do this and do it right.”

Stuff said that “the city has actually been excellent.” He said people knock staff, “but they have been great on this project.”

Final designs will be reviewed by staff and require approval prior to construction.

Commissioner Rick Tryon said, “it’s a good project, really appreciate you guys bringing it forward.”

Commissioner Joe McKenney said the community needs to change its mindset.

“We’re just used to things being as they are. Change is necessary. We’re afraid of rapid growth as any community should be….but moderate growth is healthy,” McKenney said.