BILLINGS — The Billings Zoning Commission doesn't usually have high attendance at its meetings, but dozens packed the room Tuesday night as it approved a plan to make way for apartments to replace The Elks lodge.
The commission made the unanimous decision in line with recommendations from city staff to change the eight-acre, commercially zoned lot at the corner of Lewis Avenue and Ninth Street West to neighborhood zones - which will allow for residential housing.
The commission took public comment before the vote, with the vast majority opposed to the zone change. Some were concerned about increased traffic with the possibility of 200 new residences in the area, while others were concerned about their homes losing value.
"It's still going to be 200 to 250 units of apartments without any single-family dwellings, whether they be attached, patio homes, town homes or condos. It will be a cluster of apartments," one person said during public comment period.
"200 to 300 cars. Where are they going to park? They're going to come straight down Yellowstone Avenue once that street is improved," another added. "Closer to where I live, it's going to be a pig sty and squalor."
One supporter told the commission that it's likely many in the audience recognize a need for affordable housing in Billings, but showed their hypocrisy by saying, "as long as it's not built near me."
"I would suggest that this is like a kid at meal time who tells their parents while they support eating vegetables in principle, they can't eat vegetables at this time during this meal, they don't support it."
Before anything would be built, a master plan and traffic study would need to be approved by the city.
It's not yet known exactly how many apartments may go up on the lot. The developer, Utah-based Thrive Development, would be at the helm if the sale of the property goes through. The developer's representative architect from Billings-based Collaborative Design Architects reassured the commission that any construction would meet city standards for street setbacks and allowable parking.
"There's been some comment out there, 'you can build as many apartments as you want.' But Project Re:Code does have parking requirements in a lot of these cases. Parking can limit the number of units that can actually be provided there. Again, the setbacks and the landscaping that's required and the buffer yards and the required parking, it takes up space. So it's to ensure proper development and a livable neighborhood," said Jeff Kanning, architect at Collaborative Design.
Kanning noted that his firm was responsible for design work on the Avenue C apartments in Billings located behind West Park Promenade.
If no change were to happen to the zoning, there's nothing from stopping another buyer from erecting a commercial business on the lot- which includes things like liquor stores and casinos- after a special review from the Zoning Commission and City Council.
Click here to watch the Zoning Commission meeting in its entirety.
The Billings City Council will have the final say on whether to change the Elks Lodge property's zoning at a Monday meeting coming up on Feb. 28.