The Fairfield Town Council tabled proposed revisions to zoning ordinances and approved three special assessment districts for the 2020-21 fiscal year along with a zoning permit for 3 Rivers Communications July 15 during a marathon meeting that started with two public hearings.
The council considered three zoning ordinance changes, regarding who has authority to sign off on a permit, zoning regulations for commercial businesses on Central Avenue and zoning setback requirements. Following discussion, the council voted to table the motions and agreed to a work session to further “hash out” recommendations to bring back to a council meeting.
During the discussion, it was pointed out at least three towns within the region have ordinances that allow for the town to approve any permits that meet the ordinance requirements. Under the Fairfield zoning ordinance, the town council must approve all permits. Mayor Bob Swartz said the approval system has the potential to delay a resident from starting a project while waiting for a council meeting. He used the example of someone coming to the town office the day after a board meeting and having to wait a month before starting a project even though this individual meets all zoning ordinance requirements. Swartz suggested instead the town crew who inspects each permit be given the authority to approve those meeting the requirements.
The second proposed change addressed setback requirements for businesses on Central Avenue. None of the businesses currently meet the town’s zoning setback requirements. The town’s setback requirements are the same for residential and commercial buildings both on Central Avenue and throughout the town.
In the past month, the town received a zoning permit request from 3 Rivers Communications for construction of a new building on the corner of Fourth Street South and Second Avenue South. The new construction does not meet zoning setback requirements.
Councilman Ron Dauwalder said in considering the permit by 3 Rivers over the past month, the town employees and council members have researched the setbacks to determine whether there were different setback requirements for businesses at one time. At the time of the council meeting, nothing had been discovered to support this theory.
Dauwalder said the current 3 Rivers complex has 1,400 feet which is not compliant with the setback requirements. As part of the construction project, 3 Rivers will be tearing down the oldest building on Fifth Street North and Second Avenue South and converting the area into a small park that can be used by the public along with alley parking.
The new building will be attached to an existing building that was constructed in 1995. Dauwalder said when construction is complete, there will be a net gain for the town with only 485 feet of the building noncompliant instead of 1,400. Plus, the residents in the town will have the use of a green space which will be kept up by the telephone cooperative, the councilman said. As part of the agreement, the cooperative agreed to not include pillars that were proposed as part of the new drive-up area.
Dauwalder also spoke of the positives of having 3 Rivers Communications as part of the community. Representatives from 3 Rivers were present outside of the meeting and willing to attend if the council had additional questions. They elected not to join the meeting given the additional COVID-19 restrictions and limited space at the town office.
The three council members present at the meeting — Dauwalder, Chuck Brown and Loren Tacke — approved the permit for 3 Rivers. Council member Terra Rosenbaum was not in attendance. The council said they were aware that approving the permit for 3 Rivers could mean setting precedence, but said they hope to address the overall zoning issues in the coming months.
Dauwalder, who is an employee of 3 Rivers, said he thinks the current requirements are too strict for businesses. “We certainly don’t want to discourage any business from building in the community, but at the same time want to be fair, taking into consideration residential areas where there may be businesses and how it all fits together,” he said.
All three council members agreed they need to rework zoning regulations, taking into consideration needs for residential and commercial building owners. “I’m sick and tired of zoning issues. We need to take care of the matter once and for all,” Dauwalder said.
A date for the work session was not set during the regular council meeting.
Councilman Tacke reported on a meeting with Great West Engineering for the completion of a lighting project on Central Avenue. Tacke said they anticipate adding four or five lights farther down Central Avenue in a similar design to the ones already being used. They will be working with the Fairfield Town Hall Committee, because that group is proposing the addition of lights to their renovation project and would like them to use the same design.
It was noted one of the lights will be positioned in the triangle between Central Avenue and Sixth Street South. The estimated cost for the lighting project is $66,000 to $70,000 with the funds coming from the lighting district.
An update was also given on the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards for accessibility at the swimming pool. It was noted that patrons would be able to use the ADA-compliant parking spot and the newly added sidewalk for entry to the pool area. Tacke outlined other work that will be done, including changes to the restroom on the outside of the building and doorways and changing rooms including showers. Funding sources are still being considering for the work.
Before the meeting, two public hearings were held to discuss renovations to the Fairfield Community Hall and a water system through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.
Representatives from the Community Hall board were present. Emily Gulick, the vice chairwoman of the board and project coordinator, outlined the plans at the hall including the recently completed phase one. The Hall Board is asking for $450,000 in one-time funding.
Gulick spoke of the areas of concern being addressed: ADA compliance in the restrooms, installation needs and updates to an antiquated heating system. Brad Bauman, a member of the Fairfield Lions Club, reported on the financial package the club is helping to secure for hall project. Bauman said on behalf of the hall board, he has applied to 17 different foundations for various dollar amounts. They also plan to visit with area businesses and individuals for support. They plan to offer a five-year commitment program with the hopes of making it easier for those wishing to donate but not wanting to give a larger amount all at once.
Bauman stressed this will be a far-reaching approach with the hopes of raising the needed funds over the next couple years. The overall cost of the project is estimated to be $850,000. The first phase cost $300,000.
Sarah Converse, executive director of Sweet Grass Development, attended the meeting along with two board members, Mike Mills and Shane Etzwiler. Sweet Grass Development will assist with the CDBG granting process. This was the first of two public hearings needed to apply for the grant through the city.
It was noted the community of Fairfield is allotted one CDBG grant a year each for projects and planning. The city isn’t at the point of needing project funds, however, so they will be requesting the planning grant through CDBG funds. According to hall board, the funding they are requesting would be for the project and not planning as that phase has already been completed and paid for.
The CDBG program provides annual grants on a formula basis to states, cities and counties to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment, and by expanding economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income residents.
The Fairfield Community Hall also houses the Fairfield Food Bank, which adds to the application for the CDBG funds.
A second public hearing must to be held before the deadline for applying for the grant in the middle of September.
The second public hearing was for the city’s water improvement project. Anderson of Great West Engineering once again presented the Water System preliminary engineering report which covered technical analysis, environmental assessments, grant applications, problem definitions, alternative solutions, cost estimates and funding scenarios.
Anderson explained the timeline from now until construction starting in the spring of 2022.
At the July meeting, the council members also:
•Reviewed findings from Morris Land Surveys, PLLC, of Choteau for Seventh Street.
•Changed the council meeting time to 6:30 p.m.
•Made resolutions for fiscal year 2020-21 for special assessments for lights, garbage and street maintenance.
•Agreed to a three-year contract with the audit firm.