The city council voted 4-0 to recommend approval of proposed code changes related to casinos. Three board members were absent.
The proposed change was prompted by the owner of 2416 11th Ave. S. who wants to sell the property to a buyer who wants to use part of the vacant building for a casino, according to city staff.
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The building was previously occupied by “Bingo Bonanza,” a casino business, according to the city.
A valid gambling license is still available, leading the owner and interested buyer to ask the city if a casino could be reinstated on the property, staff said.
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The city code has specific land uses related to gaming, which are Type 1 casinos, Type 2 casinos, and incidental gaming.
Type 1 casinos are permitted in certain commercial zoning districts, the airport industrial district, and light and heavy industrial zoning districts.
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The property in question is zoned General Commercial C-2 where a Type 1 casino would be permitted.
But Type 1 casinos have special requirements for landscaping and distance from schools, churches, parks and playgrounds.
Additional regulations specific to casinos were passed in 2007, according to city staff.
“I think it’s safe to say that there was some intention to make it more difficult for [casinos] to be established,” Deputy Director of Planning Tom Micuda told the planning board of the city’s thinking at the time.
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Staff have encountered issues in recent years with additional casino requirements for several projects, including the current project at El Comedor and a planned project for an Emerald City casino on South 10th Avenue.
“It’s more than a site and a challenge, we’ve had other challenges,” Micuda told the planning board.
Since the new owners of El Comedor wanted to expand their casino area, they moved their incidental gaming classification to a Type 1 casino, which triggered the additional landscaping requirements under the existing code.
The owners of the Emerald City Casino on 10th Avenue South intend to demolish the existing building and nearby old dry cleaners to build a new casino, triggering the distance requirement from a city park, which is only an issue under city code and not the state’s distance requirement for licensing.
The proposal is then submitted to the municipal commission for final review.
If the commissioners pass the amendment, casinos would be treated the same as any other commercial development and for all new construction, building additions over 20% of the site, new parking lots and parking lots exceeding certain percentages would require the adherence to regular landscaping code. , according to the staff.
Currently, casinos are the only renovation projects that trigger additional landscaping requirements.
Under the proposed change, casinos would still be subject to the normal code landscaping requirements that apply to other projects, but it would remove the additional landscaping requirements unique to casinos.
All casinos and gambling operations would remain subject to state licensing regulations, which include a 600-foot distance from churches and schools. State regulations are door-to-door while city regulations extend from property line to property line, which has caused complications for some projects.
State rules do not require distance for casinos from parks or playgrounds.
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According to staff, the property meets the distancing requirements for certain property types, but would be impacted by landscaping requirements since it was developed at a time when current landscaping regulations were not in effect. in place.
According to staff, most of the site’s landscaping is within the public right-of-way along 25th Street and 11th Avenue South, and this does not count toward code requirements.
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Under the code, the applicant would have to allocate 20% of the existing property to landscaping, with 50% along the frontage of the property.
Since the property is approximately 27,000 square feet, this would require approximately 5,400 square feet of new landscaping, including 2,700 square feet in the area between the building and the front lot line.
This requirement would eliminate approximately 18 parking spaces.
Owner Bill Heisler has an interested buyer who would turn about 3,000 square feet of the building into a casino and lease the remaining 5,000 square feet, so parking would be needed, he told the planning board.
Staff met with the applicant and told him that he could comply with the code, request a waiver, or request a change to the text of the code.
A discrepancy would be difficult since the property is not unique and the plaintiff had the option of pursuing other commercial uses for the building. The staff therefore recommended that the requester request the modification of the text, according to the staff.
The text amendment is a “significant change to the way playground uses would be regulated in the land use planning code. The amendment is being submitted because staff have encountered great difficulty in administering the current zoning code regulations.” according to the staff report.
Key changes in the Staff Amendment include:
- eliminating special landscaping requirements for Type 1 casinos. “This does not eliminate the need for landscaping casino developments if such projects involve new construction, building expansions or parking areas additional. It simply removes the requirement to upgrade the landscaping of casinos moving into existing buildings,” according to staff;
- eliminating all the various special distance requirements in locating Type I and Type II casinos near churches, schools, parks, playgrounds and residential zoning areas. “This is not an issue for the claimant’s application, but has been an issue that has created challenges for staff to administer as well as other owners wishing to establish casinos,” according to staff. State distancing requirements would remain in effect for anyone seeking a gambling license.
Since the staff proposes to eliminate these particular requirements, there is no reason to have two types of casinos specified in the code, according to the staff.
They propose to remove both types and have only one use of the land as a casino in the code that would be permitted in commercial districts C-2 and C-4; the industrial district of the airport; and light and heavy industrial districts. These are the same neighborhoods where casinos are currently permitted.
“At first glance, the amendment could be seen as increasing the potential for relocation and development of casinos in the community. This would likely be a concern for decision makers and certainly for community residents. However, since the State of Montana still restricts casino/bar licensing and enforces its own distancing requirements, staff believe that the financial impact and impact on community character associated with the proposed amendment will be limited. “, according to the staff.
The staff is also proposing a minor change to make it clearer the distinction between casinos and incidental games, which are limited to a maximum of 500 square feet of space clearly ancillary to bars, hotels and restaurants, according to the staff.