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Rezoning request approved for Bay Drive housing development

Bay Drive housing development
Bay Drive housing development
Posted at 6:28 PM, Apr 03, 2024

During a Tuesday night meeting, Great Falls city commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance to re-zone a 4.46 acre property on Bay Drive and Second Street Southwest from single family suburban to mixed-use transitional.

The applicants plan to sell the property to developers who wish to build a 92-unit mixed residential development, consisting of two apartment buildings and seven town homes.

City staff determined that the development is consistent with the current Great Falls Growth Plan, and the Missouri River Urban Corridor plan. After concerns were raised by neighbors in the area, staff conducted a thorough traffic review which concluded that the development wouldn’t lead to substantial if any disruption in traffic patterns.

Several neighborhood residents attended the meeting to voice their opposition to the project. Though the city planning advisory board and zoning commission approved recommendation of the project, the Neighborhood Council #2 unanimously opposed.

They organized a formal complaint with 101 signatures.

Bay Drive housing development

“I believe that most of us here would agree that city growth is necessary,” said Great Falls resident Julie Essex. “However I think growth should be consistent with good governance. Growth that results in adverse impacts to existing neighborhoods and incompatible land use is not good governance.”

Advocates re-iterated the need for housing in Great Falls, which has seen demand skyrocket faster than supply can keep up.

Representatives from the Great Falls Hospital and Touro University among others claimed that lack of housing at all price points is keeping Great Falls from attracting qualified candidates.

According to the Great Falls Development Alliance, the city requires an annual increase of 640 units above current housing stock levels to meet demand including 270 rental units.

“Our community is in desperate need of housing,” said GFDA vice president Jolene Schalper. “The more housing options we have, the less issues we will have and this a clear public benefit.”

Commissioners cited an inability to refute the proposal and staff recommendation with a “finding of facts”, acknowledging that the staff report, coordinated by city planning director Brock Cherry, was thorough and answered all questions.

Bay Drive housing development
Bay Drive housing development

They also pointed to the current housing demand to justify their decision.

“We have a housing shortage, it’s real,” said commissioner Joe McKenney. “It’s been going on for years and it’s going to go on for another decade. We won’t catch up quickly and there’s no easy fix.”

There are still several steps before the project moves forward, but the approval of a re-zone is a major hurdle.

In the meantime, the city is preparing to update its growth policy for the first time in over a decade.