by Nathan Boddy
The Hamilton City Council met during their regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, May 18th, with a full agenda before them. Only the second in-person meeting since Covid-19 forced much of its activity onto other platforms, the Council found itself before a small, socially distanced, audience. Two rezoning requests, both forwarded to the Council from the city’s Zoning Commission, were the hot topics of the evening.
In the first of two required public hearings on the matter, the Council entertained a request by Mark Bickish to rezone approximately 15,400 square feet of property on the 300 block of North 8th Street from PS (Professional Service Business) to RH (Residential High Density). The property, approximately 100 feet south of Pine Street, is currently vacant and bounded on two sides by medium density residential (RM) and on the other two sides by the PS zone.
The applicant indicated that he seeks to build multifamily housing on the site, the number of which would be determined during a ‘site plan’ phase, but could total up to 11 units. The applicant’s written statement, however, asserts the intention to build no more than eight.
City Planner, Matthew Rohrbach, presented the city staff’s ‘Finding of Facts’ in regard to the request, using a ten-point analysis based on Hamilton’s Growth Policy, access to municipal services, safety and welfare of the community, among others. Ultimately, staff recommendation as well as that of the City Zoning Commission was to approve the rezoning request.
Two letters were received in opposition to the zoning change, while one caller via Zoom supported the change due to the potential housing it could provide. The City Council voted to approve the zoning change, however, the Municipal Code requires an additional public hearing and second reading, which have been scheduled for Tuesday, June 1.
An application by Jeff Jessop for zoning change from B-1 (Local Business) to B (Transitional Neighborhood Business) at 223 and 229 Fairgrounds Road brought considerably more comment from the public, due to stated concerns of increased traffic and density. The city’s Project Summary for the zoning change declares that, “The applicant has stated their intent to develop the two properties with roughly 50 townhomes which requires a zone map amendment as townhomes are not permitted in the B-1 district.” The B-1 zoning designation currently assigned to the parcels allows for a variety of commercial applications, but is generally not as conducive to residential development as the B designation sought by the applicants. Although detailed development plans are not required for a zoning change, the application made no mention of potential commercial aspirations for the property, some of which are also allowed under the B designation.
Several landowners, whose homes occupy the Kayne Road development immediately south and west of the subject parcels, expressed their concerns. Michael McKee spoke at length to the Council, stating, “I’m not against developing the area. I wouldn’t mind a residential area if it was essentially single-family residence, but, that’s not what’s proposed here. What’s proposed here is the insertion of a 50-townhome monstrosity right next to seven small houses.” Other homeowners echoed his sentiment as the Council began their discussion.
City Planner Matthew Rohrbach gave his impressions of the proposed zoning change, asserting that it would essentially be “decreasing density and increasing setbacks” to adopt the B designation, as well as reducing the overall variety of possible land uses. Councilor Jenny West pointed out that several of the allowed land uses within the B-1 zone, such as taverns and arcades, would be potentially far more disrupting than residential development, while Councilor Claire Kemp opined, “I don’t think its current zoning is great for the neighborhood.”
Although any future site plan for development would still need to be reviewed by city planners, the Council voted unanimously to approve the zoning change. The required second public hearing of the proposed zone change will take place on Tuesday, June 1. If approved by the Council again at that point, the new zoning will take effect 30 days after.
In other actions, the Council approved a request by Amy Fox of Bike Walk Bitterroot to repaint the intersection of State and South 4th, an action which is planned to take place on Memorial Day.
Also approved was an authorization for Mayor Farrenkopf to sign a grant application to the U.S. Department of Justice in request of funding for an additional police officer.