City OK’s downtown apartments; $3 million project

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A conceptual view of the new apartment building.

The Columbia Falls City Council Monday night approved an apartment complex on the former Davall Building site in downtown.

Developer Mick Ruis has plans for an 18-unit residential building at 35 Fifth Street. The council’s main concern with the project was parking. The project will have 18 parking spots of its own, but with street parking around the building, about 18 to 20 more spots will be available as well.

Council allowed two key variances in the planned unit development. The roof will be 5.5 feet higher than the city limit of 35 feet and the building will not have retail space on the lower level.

The estimated cost of the project is about $3 million, said Bill Goldberg of Compass Construction, the construction firm building the project. He estimated the apartments, which will be two and three bedroom units, will rent for about $1,200 to $1,300 a month. The building will have elevators and emergency ladders to access to the roof.

Every apartment will have a balcony.

There was some discussion between Mayor Don Barnhart and Goldberg about whether the project should have to completely pave the north-south alleyway between the building and businesses on Nucleus Avenue, but in the end, the council did not make it a requirement. Ruis will have to replace the sidewalks that are damaged during construction. Goldberg said they have already planned for that.

Resident John Rallis said the developer shouldn’t have filled in the empty basement of the old building — it could have been made into a parking garage. But the basement wasn’t very big to begin with. Rallis is running for mayor.

There was also some discussion about why the project didn’t have lower level retail. Goldberg said the project wouldn’t fly if it did — there’s no demand for retail or office space.

“If we can’t have residential units on the main floor, it’s scrapped,” he said.

The project is just one of many Ruis has for the downtown area. He built the Cedar Creek Lodge and sold it this year to Xanterra Parks and Resorts. He remodeled the former Park Mercantile building, which is now a fitness center. He’s building another retail-apartment complex on Nucleus Avenue next to the Merc, which should be done this fall, and he has plans to remodel the old Bandit Bar into a sports bar and restaurant.

In other news:

• The city’s budget is looking positive. The general fund is down slightly from last year at $2.916 million and the total budget, including sewer and water is about $8.3 million. Last year’s general fund budget was a little more than $3 million. The city’s total taxable valuation went up 8.34 percent to $6.946 million. The total number of mills it will need to levy will go down 8.65 mills. But whether or not a homeowner will see a drop in their tax bills remains to be seen, because the state did a revaluation this year and most homeowners saw their home values go up, so even if the mills go down, they could be paying the same or even more in city taxes.

• The city recognized police officer Gary Stanberry for 10 years of service.

• Mayor Don Barnhart and council members will get together soon to pick a spot in Marantette Park to put up the city’s welcome sign. Barnhart said it didn’t belong in a horse pasture outside of town. Councilman Dave Petersen dissented, saying he liked the sign out there.

• The city finalized a deal with the Cahill family to end the Kreck Trail through the Cahill’s property. The Cahills will pay the city about $4,200 for past maintenance on the trail. The city, in turn, will relinquish the easement through the Cahills’ property. The Cahills have long complained that the trail resulted in vandalism to their property.

• Two people spoke in opposition to the city’s new “no parking on the grass” ordinance. The council did a second and final reading of the ordinance, which bans parking on the grass in front and side yards adjacent to city streets. If the area is graveled, or paved, parking is allowed.

• The City-County Planning board will have two public hearings on Tuesday, Aug. 15 at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers. One is a zone-change request by Weyerhaeuser on a parcel of land east of the Cedar Palace where the parking lot for the former plywood plant is located. The land is currently zoned two family residential and the company is requesting it be changed to light industrial, which fits the zoning in the surrounding properties. The land is currently for sale. A second zone change request by Swan Mountain Real Estate Holdings and Lester Elletson to change .42 acres of land at the corner of Railroad Street and Sixth Avenue North from residential apartment to general business to accommodate a planned snowmobile rental and guide service from the location.

City council will take up the matters and hold a public hearing at its meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 21.

• Council gave the thumbs up to forming a technical advisory group to examine results from the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. site. But a non-profit, not the city, will have to oversee the group. What group would be willing to take up the task remains to be seen.

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