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Planning board OK’s apartments, with conditions

Editor | July 21, 2021 10:30 AM

The Columbia Falls City-County planning board last week approved a 36-unit apartment complex off Meadow Lake Boulevard after about two hours of discussion on the project.

The development will now go before the city council Aug. 2 at 7 p.m.

The planning board initially rejected the development in February, as the project lacked a traffic study and neighbors were also against the proposal as most homes in the area are single family residences.

But developer Toby Gilchrist went back and did a traffic study and added some other amenities, like a 6-foot high fence to screen the development from the north and the east.

The traffic study shows 239 vehicle trips per day and a traffic load increase of 5% to 10% on Meadow Lake Boulevard. However, it also predicts that a driver at the intersection at Highway 2 would only see a delay of an additional second or less.

The apartment buildings would have two studio units, two one-bedroom units, eight two-bedroom units and six, three-bedroom units.

The development would also have about 11 school-aged children living there, according to projections.

The planning board was initially worried the students would go to Glacier Gateway, where they’d be walking down the Truck Route, but they’ll be bused to Ruder Elementary, the school district said.
The apartments are roughly across the road from the Green Box site.

As far as housing density was concerned, planner Eric Mulcahy said adjacent landowners could have higher density housing on their lots as well — they’re zoned for it, but they haven’t yet.

Architect Aaron Wallace of Montana Creative also noted that the development will look to preserve as many trees as possible to create an additional buffer between the neighbors and the development.

The planning board, after hearing that and adding other conditions, OK’d a zone change on Gilchrist’s lot from single family residential (CR-5) to multifamily residential (CR-1A) and a conditional use permit for the development.

Some of the conditions include determining the best place for a school bus stop in cooperation with the school district, and a cash-in-lieu of construction for sidewalks in front of the development.

The city is hoping to eventually put in some sort of walking path, perhaps just a gravel one at first, along Meadow Lake Boulevard when the water lines go in for this development and Garnier Heights to the north.

But not everyone was pleased. Brooke and Jelani Lawson, who are neighbors to the north, suggested the city and the county figure out the best way to make Meadow Lake Boulevard more pedestrian and traffic friendly before permitting the development.

But city attorney Justin Breck said the city couldn’t legally do that.

The planning board, did, however, require Gilchrist to at least consult with the Montana Department of Transportation on a left hand turn-green light signal at Meadow Lake Boulevard.

It also required developer Mick Ruis, who is building the Garnier Heights subdivision, to do the same thing.

The idea is to convince the MDT to change the light, which currently only flashes yellow.

Gilchrist also noted that the apartments will be longterm rentals at market rates, not vacation rentals.

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