Council approves zone change

Hunter Herbaugh
Sunday, September 20, 2020


The Glendive City Council approved a zone change for four plots of land in the Sunrise Subdivision, taking the first step in opening the property for commercial use. The public hearing on the issue attracted a large gathering of local residents, with almost all of them expressing support in one way or another for the proposed change.

The owner of the property being discussed, Greg Kemp, is aiming to open the 2.21 acre tract of land between CC’s Family Cafe and the Eastern Montana Veterans’ Home to commercial use, hoping to attract a recognizable franchise that will hopefully give the local economy a shot in the arm.

“This community since I’ve been here, about 14, close to 15 years now, has just been going slower and slower and slower and slower, and we’ve got to do something to turn it around,” Kemp said.

The area is currently zoned as an R-3 residential district, which allows for multi-family dwellings. The proposed zone change would turn the land into a C-1 commercial district, which allows for restaurants and retail outlets.

Kemp has previously explained that there currently isn’t a specific business he has in mind for building on the property, as he is focusing on just the rezoning right now. However, he explained his thinking on the subject a bit more at the meeting, saying he is hoping to attract a recognizable franchise that will attract travelers off of the interstate and bring them into town.

“We have got to get people to stop in Glendive. I am not gonna stop them by putting in a fancy steak house,” Kemp said. “We need people to come to Glendive. We need people to stop in Glendive while driving by.”

He added that the location he owns is ideal for such a purpose, noting it’s close proximity to the interstate, several hotels and the museums. The land also has readily available access to city utilities, such as water, which is an amenity that many businesses look for.

When asked what kind of restrictions a C-1 district has in place, Kemp deferred to Glendive Public Works Director Frank Ceane who explained that such a zoning classification is limited to basically just retail outlets and restaurants, meaning a business such as a maintenance shop or a meat cutting plant, which were used as examples, can’t move onto the property.

However, it is the lack of certain restrictions that those opposed to the zone change are taking issue with. Opposition to the zone change was led by Steve Egli, a landowner in the Sunrise Subdivision. Egli has noted previously that his main concern with allowing the change, is it would be right next to a residential district and the rezoning classifications don’t require any sort of buffer zone between the two.

“What makes the zoning work in that area - it’s a mixed use area, I have no problems with having commercial all around me - if you look at the zoning map currently, there’s a street between every unlike zoning. Between the M-1, between the commercial, the residential, there is a street. This proposes to put commercial right next to the residents,” Egli said.

He noted that a transitional buffer between districts is generally a 20 foot zone, generally filled with landscaping, that separates two districts. While a transitional buffer is required under city code in some circumstances, it is not required between R-3 and C-1 zones.

Egli explained that he would like to see some degree of separation between the districts due to possible nuisances that the nearby residents might have to endure from a commercial business, such as noise and headlights shining through windows. However, Ceane pointed out that many of the worries Egli has are present even under the current zoning. As an R-3 zone, hotels can be built on the lot as it is, and can be up to 75 feet tall with minimal separation from the nearby residents, no fencing is required and parking lots can still be built up to the property line.

“Right now, you could put a 75 foot hotel, seven stories, tallest building in town, five foot off the property line. That’s your zoning currently,” Ceane said. “Those concerns that you have, exist currently with your current zoning as an R-3.”

Kemp noted that he is not trying to cause harm to anyone with this proposed change and is open to working with people such as Egli who have their concerns regarding the change.

Egli was not the only one in opposition. A protest petition was submitted to the city, signed by seven real property owners in the area, according to Ceane. However, the petition did not meet protest standards, as the total land owned by those in protest did not equal 20% of the land within 150 feet of the proposed zone change. Lands within that 150 foot range include Kemp’s land and land owned by the State of Montana, however Ceane noted that even with these lands excluded, the petition still did not meet protest standards.

Kemp’s plan for the property attracted numerous supporters who spoke in favor of the proposed zone change. One such supporter, Joe Gillespie, who owns a business in North Glendive, encouraged anyone who was in support of Kemp’s effort to stand up. Of the about 30 members of the public that were present, almost everyone stood. The only ones who didn’t were Kemp, Egli and a representative of the contractor working on the new water treatment plant who was there for another matter.

Another local resident and business owner who spoke in support was Melonie Beeler, owner of Voya Financial. She provided her own perspective on how difficult it can be for a new business in Glendive to find an appropriate space, speaking based on her own experience.

“As a business owner in 2011, we were looking for a new location. We looked at building versus remodeling a business space, and when you start to consider what we have in Glendive, you start limiting a number of areas in town,” Beeler said.

She explained the searching that she and her father did, looking for a location for their businesses. They found that limitations in the flood plain and on Highway 16 made it difficult to build or renovate in those areas and downtown was just as difficult, as half of Merrill Avenue is owned by the railroad and many of the empty buildings are owned by out-of-state, absentee owners that seem to have abandoned them. She expressed her belief that opening the proposed area to commercial interests could only help.

Others who spoke in support spoke about their experiences growing up in town and how they felt seeing the community shrink. Alex Palmer spoke of how he grew up in Glendive and is now raising his family here, but expressed his grief at seeing things deteriorate.

“We all stuck around because we believed in Glendive and felt as though the small town could give us all the opportunities we could ever asked for, but lately it feels as though the small town is getting even smaller,” Palmer said.

Palmer further encouraged any other local entrepreneurs to take the chance and open a new business in town and for those who don’t feel as though they can to support those who do.

After hearing comments from more members of the public, the council voted unanimously to approve the rezoning. However, there is still a bit of ways to go before the change takes effect. A resolution must be crafted and it has to pass two public readings before being finalized.

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“We all stuck around because we believed in Glendive and felt as though the small town could give us all the opportunities we could ever asked for, but lately it feels as though the small town is getting even smaller,” Alex Palmer