A proposed apartment complex project in Great Falls is now off the table.
Craig Development of North Dakota was hoping to re-zone the Great Falls RV park (formerly Dick's RV Park), and convert it into a 513-unit apartment complex.
Craig Raymond, the Great Falls Planning & Community Development Director, told MTN News on Tuesday that he was asked by the owner to stop the rezoning process and the parties asked to cancel the purchase agreement.
The project was scheduled to be presented to the Great Falls City Commission at its meeting Tuesday night. The project was also scheduled for a public hearing in March.
In addition to the re-zoning, the developer wanted the creation of a tax increment financing district, which under Montana state law would require proof there is blight in the area.
The project had received Planning Board and Neighborhood Council approval.
However, some residents expressed concern about increased traffic and safety and emergency access.
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(MONDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2023) It’s no secret there’s a need for more housing in Great Falls. And while the proposed 513-unit River’s Edge apartment complex at the Great Falls RV Park (formerly Dick's RV Park) could help ease the crunch, some people are concerned about the safety issues the development could create.
“As a police officer who served here for 31 years, and worked some of these streets and is familiar with the traffic issues and public safety issues,” said Great Falls resident and former Great Falls Police officer Bryan Lockerby. “Really to me, this is more of a safety concern. “
The rezoning proposal will go before the City Commission on Tuesday, February 7, before having a public hearing in March.
In addition to the apartments, it proposes an adjacent tract bordering the Sun River which would be used as a park with outdoor amenities.
It’s received approval from Neighborhood Council #1 and the Great Falls Planning Advisory Board and Zoning Commission.
Currently the site has just one access point off 13th Avenue Southwest. A second, yet to be designed mandatory emergency access point off 6th street southwest is something Lockerby says presents whole new set of challenges.
“I’ve driven police cars with lights and sirens through that intersection for years,” said Lockerby. “If you look at heavy traffic at 5 o’clock in the afternoon getting though there is a nightmare. I know people are trying to get out of the way.”
Another concern, not just of Lockerby, is the increased traffic.
“Certainly we were very aware of the traffic impact,” said Craig Raymond, City of Great Falls Director of Planning and Community Development. “You don’t have growth and development without some level of impact.”
The city used third-party engineering firm Sanderson Stewart to conduct a traffic study.
Among the recommendations is adding stop signs on 13th Avenue Southwest and the city monitoring speed, safety and traffic volumes in the area.
The study assigned the intersections impacted by the development a letter grade.
At January’s planning meeting, Spencer Woith of Woith Engineering, spoke on behalf of North Dakota developer Jesse Craig.
“Our intersections are at A and B levels,” said Woith. “C levels are acceptable, that’s like the baseline, that’s good. Anything above C is great, then when you get below C, then they start failing.”
The study said the new complex would generate 2,329 gross trips per day. Click here to see the full study (PDF).
Lockerby says another safety concern is the increased traffic at the exits leading to and from the development.
“There’s not a day that goes by where a horn is not honking, two or three times,” said Lockerby. “Whether it’s a semi, or somebody else because a vehicle didn’t know how to merge correctly.”
Another resident voiced concerns about what he calls a “choke point” at a single lane rail underpass near the development.
Woith says while a standard city road is 31 feet wide, the section in question is only 29 and a half feet wide, but still more than adequate.
He demonstrated by showing a picture of two, three-quarter ton pickups passing each underneath the underpass.
“There is plenty of space to get underneath that,” said Woith. “The fire department has gone out and confirmed that there is no issues with their vehicles on heights or any concerns from their end of the emergency access side of things.
Lockerby says he’s also concerned with what he calls a “checkerboard” system of jurisdictions relating to the development.
“We have a city property, that’s going to be crossing on to a county road, that deals with Montana Department of Transportation roadways,” said Lockerby. “The roadway that leads to this complex is county. The city can’t tell the county what to do. They can’t tell them to put in streetlights, they can’t tell them to put in sidewalks. So what about the pedestrians, and what about the line of sight in adjusting that?”
Lockerby also took issue with an urban blight report that he says contradicts the traffic study by saying roads in the area are substandard, and none of the streets in the district have sidewalks or curb and gutter. Raymond told Lockerby through email; the blight study is an attempt to sell the city on a need to set up a special incentive program for the project.
Raymond says he understands the concerns of residents like Lockerby, but the impact of the project might not be as severe as some may think.
”What we find traditionally is that the reality ends up being far less than the fear,” said Raymond. “Yes, there’s impact but it’s not likely going to be as bad as you are afraid it’s going to be.”
“The developer is going to be gone, and then what? 10 years, five years down the road, we’re still dealing with a congestion issue,” said Lockerby. “You can’t make the road any wider.”
Lockerby says he’s all for development and progress, as long as it’s to scale. He cited a proposed 432-unite development on the east side of Great Falls. He says in that case, the local developer chose to keep it at a reasonable level with sufficient exits for egress and ingress for the added vehicles.
“If you can’t meet what the demand is going to be and affect public safety, address it correctly, then build it down to scale,” said Lockerby. “I don’t think anybody wants to impede progress, I think it’s a good thing, but at what price?”
The Great Falls City Commission will hear the proposal on Tuesday, February 7, 2023, at 7:00 p.m. in the Commission Chambers in the Civic Center.