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Billings City Council approves first reading of Project Re:Code Monday

Posted at 1:11 AM, Dec 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-15 03:11:11-05

BILLINGS — After hours of discussion that stretched right to the midnight hour, the Billings City Council voted 8-3 to approve the first reading of Project Re:Code Monday after making a series of amendments to the major zoning code revamp.

Following a city staff presentation and public comment the Council made three amendments to the proposed zoning code.

The first amendment originally introduced by Council member Roy Neese reduced the percentage of mixed zoning that a new planned neighborhood development would have to incorporate from 20 percent to 10 percent. The amendment passed unanimously.

The second amendment was introduced by Council member Frank Ewalt. The amendment rearranged code language dealing with Neighborhood 2 districts to allow less regulation on infill construction. Discussion centered around duplexes or side-by-side units and how the change would make them easier to construct, thereby providing variety in housing choices.

The Council voted 7-4 to approve the second amendment to Project Re:Code. Voting in favor were Council members Mike Boyett, Frank Ewalt, Penny Ronning, Mike Yakawich, Shaun Brown and Roy Neese. Voting against were Council members Denise Joy, Danny Choriki, Kendra Shaw and Mayor Bill Cole.

The third amendment to Project Re:Code dealt with structures that are nonconforming to the code and the amount of time an they can be considered abandoned before the next construction must bring the structure to code.

In the draft code, a structure nonconforming to its zoning code that was abandoned for more than six months could not be rebuilt to still be nonconforming. The code currently on the books has a year limit.

The amendment introduced by Council member Pam Purinton kept the time frame at one year for changes to be made to the abandoned, nonconforming structure to keep it legal in the code.

City Zoning Coordinator Nicole Cromwell said the original intent with the six month time frame was to make changes happen to abandoned properties more quickly.

The Council narrowly approved Purinton's amendment in a 6-5 vote. Voting in favor were Council members Mike Boyett, Frank Ewalt, Shaun Brown, Roy Neese, Pam Purinton and Mayor Bill Cole. Voting against were Council members Denise Joy, Danny Choriki, Mike Yakawich and Kendra Shaw.

Much of the Council's discussion and public comments centered around the separation distance that bars and casinos are proposed to have from other zoning districts in the new code.

Casino owners voiced concerns that their businesses were being treated differently than a bar when it came to separation distance from neighborhoods, schools, churches and parks. The proposed code measures the distance from the exterior structure of the bar or casino to the boundary of the other nearest district. Casinos would be required to stay 350 feet back from the nearest district and bars would have to be 100 feet away from the nearest district.

The Council decided to hold discussion on the topic of bars and casinos until Project Re:Code comes up for a second reading at a future Council meeting.

RELATED: Billings City Council postpones major zoning vote pending revisions and talks with business groups