Zoning issue tabled

 

A rezoning of property on the Broadus Highway was tabled by the Miles City Zoning Commission Thursday so members can further discuss points raised at the meeting.

About 50 people attending the zoning meeting held at City Hall.

Currently the land at 722 Highway 59 South is zoned agricultural, but the owner would like it changed to general commercial.

John Peila of Miles City purchased 29 acres of land from Brad Certain and began construction on a building for his business, Diamond J Construction, which specializes in hauling dirt and concrete. He said at the hearing that his business has outgrown its current facility on South Haynes Avenue. 

Foundation work already has begun at the new site south of town.

Peila said he did not know the land needed to be re-zoned to general commercial, as it is outside the city limits. The city’s zoning authority extends to two miles outside the city limits.

In the public hearing portion of the meeting, Chairperson Amber Trenka asked for proponents of the zone change to speak first, as is standard procedure. 

Speaking in favor of the request were Brad Certain, Monty Lesh, Emmett Wilson, Jared Payne, Eric Doeden, Paul Oakland, Robert Tooke and Ty Ketchum. Wilson and Payne are affiliated with Diamond J.

All argued that Miles City is limited in the directions it can grow, due to geological and land ownership issues, and growing to the south and east is the logical progression. Miles City needs expanded commercial areas, they said, as these can increase the tax base and provide jobs.

Speaking in opposition to the zone change were Mark Noennig, who represented Barbara Todoroff, an adjacent landowner. Noennig argued that the area is primarily agricultural, both in use and in zoning.

Dottie Johnstone was opposed, saying, “It should have been done the right way in the first place.”

Bill Oftedahl stated that, as a highway contractor himself, “Highway contractors do not make good neighbors.” He cited materials stored in the yard, possible chemical hazards and the odd hours when large trucks will be entering and exiting the property. 

Oftedahl also said he believes most people think of general commercial as motel, restaurants and shopping centers, as opposed to trucking and construction firms. He suggested industrial is more applicable for construction.

However, under Miles City zoning code, the use proposed for the contested property is acceptable under General Commercial, which covers multiple uses including multi-family property.

John Todoroff said he has run cattle on his adjacent property for 49 years, and he is opposed to the change.

City Councilman Mark Ahner said he was “not necessarily opposed to growth to the south,” but he was concerned that the application for the re-zone after construction had begun would “subvert the process and the City Council.” 

Ahner also suggested that if the re-zone is approved, Peila plant trees or provide other landscaping to screen his property so that people approaching Miles City from the south do not see an unattractive area as their first impression of the community.

Peggy Pyle and Jenny Pyle Paxson said they do not want “a business like that” close to their property.

Peila spoke again, reiterating that he had been genuinely unaware of the zone change requirement. He pointed out that he had applied for all the needed permits from the state departments of Transportation and Environmental Quality. He promised that the yard area would be kept tidy and to “do our best to plant trees and keep order.”

In addition, Peila noted that commercial construction activity had taken place and was still taking place on the Pyle property.

After the public hearing was closed and the regular meeting of the Zoning Commission started, Trenka asked Public Works Director Scott Gray to read the staff report on the re-zoning. There are a number of issues that city staff reviews, including transportation access, growth policy compliance, land use and utility access. Gray said the request was generally in compliance and recommended approving the zone change.

Commission member Nancy Mitchell asked if the T&Y Ditch was concerned about possible water contamination. Peila replied that he spoke to Roger Muggli, and Muggli saw no problems and was willing to write a letter to that effect.

Commission member Muriel Rost asked about sewer and water sanitation issues. Peila explained that the state had approved designs and the city sanitarian had reviewed them, but since the sanitarian has no contract with the county, he could not legally issue official approval.

City Attorney Dan Rice then discussed the issue of “spot zoning.” Spot zoning can be deemed illegal if three criteria are met: the new use is significantly different from previous uses; the re-zone is a relatively small amount of land; and the re-zone primarily benefits one or a small number of landowners at the expense of surrounding landowners and the general public.

Mitchell noted that both the Zoning Commission and the City Council will have to consider whether the property meets the criteria for spot zoning.

City Planner and Grant Writer Dawn Colton presented the report written by planning consultant David DeGrandpre on the same issue. DeGrandpre recommended denying the application because the land use is considerably different; the amount of land is very small - 29 acres versus 14,200 acres of agricultural land; and primary benefit is to one landowner, creating legislation to benefit one landowner.

Commission members Leroy Meidinger and Leif Ronning were concerned with spot zoning and questioned Rice on the issue. He explained that the commission and the city council are “judge and jury” regarding spot zoning, and it is up to them to make the determination.

After further discussion, the commission voted to table the issue until a special meeting, which will be Wednesday, May 7, at 6 p.m. in the City Hall Conference Room. The discussion must take place within 10 business days of the public hearing.

While Meidinger was opposed to tabling the measure, the rest of the commission voted in favor.

The Zoning Commission is only a recommendation body, not a legislative board. They will make their recommendation to the City Council, and the council will have final say on the matter.