County proposing rezone for potential Children’s Museum site

Cascade County planning staff is proposing to rezone property in Black Eagle for the potential use by Children’s Museum of Montana.

The property has been leased by the county to Stray Moose Productions since 1999.

The property was originally zoned I-2 heavy industrial in 2005 as part of the county-wide zoning process.

By 2007, the property was zoned I-1 light industrial and by 2009 it was zoned open space, according to the county.

County staff are proposing to rezone the property to mixed use.

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This property is located in the Operable Unit 2 by the US Environmental Protection Agency as part of the ACM Smelter and Refinery Superfund Site controlled by Atlantic Richfield Company.

It’s accessible by North River Road, a county road, and Smelter Avenue Northeast, a Montana Department of Transportation road.

The city’s Anaconda Hills golf course is located to the north, the Black Eagle Community Center to the west and undeveloped county property to the south and east that is also part of the smelter superfund site.

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A 1995 conveyance agreement that is still in effect between the county and ARCO allows for recreational/open space and commercial uses on the property. Residential uses are prohibited.

The mixed use district allows for residential uses, but under the conveyance agreement, those uses would continue to be prohibited on the property.

Last falls, there were discussions on rezoning the property, including a county commission meeting with The Children’s Museum on Nov. 9.

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The county sent a letter of intent to rezone the property to ARCO, the EPA, MDT and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality on Nov. 17 and the county met with those agencies in December, according to county staff.

ARCO sent a letter of support of the rezone proposal to the county in January.

The county planning board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the rezone on Feb. 21.

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“This rezone will allow other non-open space uses on the property. Namely, it will allow future commercial uses that will support this goal. While not precluding other possible businesses, the rezone brings the current Stray Moose Production business into compliance with the zoning district and will allow future uses like the proposed Children’s Museum of Montana to utilize the existing improvements on the property. The Children’s Museum of Montana is needing to relocate their existing business from their current Great Falls location. In the event they acquire use of the property, it will directly aid in retaining their existing business in the community,” according to the staff report.

The museum’s lease of a city-owned property behind the Civic Center is set to expire in November.

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Museum staff and board members have gone through several iterations of potential future sites over the last few years as city officials said they were not likely to renew the lease since the property is needed for city operations.

There hadn’t been formal discussions about renewing or extending that lease as of the November county meeting, according to city officials, but they have been exploring options for acquiring additional office space.

As of  November, commissioners have not requested any information about the museum lease, according to Deputy City Manager Chuck Anderson.

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In 2018, when the lease was extended for five years, City Manager Greg Doyon said it would be his recommendation to reclaim the space it already owns for city offices.

In a January email from Doyon to Sherrie Neff, museum director, he wrote that “at this point, there does not appear to be a majority of commissioners interested in terminating the lease agreement in November 2023. Unless something significant changes between now and then (that would change their mind), I’ll recommend to the commission that they consider renewing the lease annually after the current lease expires and potentially with some modifications.”

He wrote that he suggested the museum continue its effort to find a new space, “for the simple fact that the current/propose renovations in the Civic Center will simply hold operational needs for a limited time. I hope this gives you some breathing room for now and offers more time to consider options.”

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Neff wrote back that they are “determined to make this space available to you as soon as possible. We are working through the process for a stellar site, and I will keep you posted when an estimated date is available.”

The museum had a buy-sell with Pacific Steel for the location on 3rd Street Northwest but that was no longer in place in 2021. Neff said at the time that COVID-19 slowed their fundraising efforts.

The property is currently undergoing EPA/DEQ remediation and additional remediation may be needed depending on future uses of the property.

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If the museum leases the property,  remediation to a residential standard may be required, according to county staff.

The current building was connected to the Black Eagle Water and Sewer District in 1999 providing approximately 100 gallons of water per minute of unrestricted flow. The building utilizes a gravity sanitary sewer service with a lift station that connects to the Black Eagle community sanitary sewer system.

The mixed use zoning district requires yard setbacks, landscaping and off-street parking requirements and the museum would have to work with the City-County Health Department and other environmental agencies to comply with water, wastewater and stormwater requirements, according to the county.