Billings Clinic meets neighbors wondering about the future of 80 acres on the West End

2014-07-22T21:09:00Z 2014-07-23T14:32:31Z Billings Clinic meets neighbors wondering about the future of 80 acres on the West EndBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

An 80-acre parcel owned by Billings Clinic and located at the southwest corner of Shiloh Road and Broadwater Avenue is going to be — well, something, someday.

Just how and when Billings Clinic develops the parcel, which it purchased in 2004 as an investment property, remain to be seen.

Hospital officials and representatives from Sanderson Stewart, an engineering and land use firm employed for the project, presented information and answered questions for about 30 neighbors at a meeting Tuesday evening at Faith Chapel, which is right across Shiloh Road from the property.

Billings Clinic currently has an agreement that provides for the 80 acres to be farmed.

But in the coming months, Billings Clinic will seek two designations for the property: getting it annexed into Billings, and changing the zoning designation from agricultural use to planned development.

The two goals can be pursued simultaneously and should take three or four months, said Sanderson Stewart’s Lauren Waterton, a land planner.

But hospital officials said they have no current specific development plans should the parcel be annexed and the planned development agreed to, first by the Billings Planning Commission and then the Billings City Council.

“Our vision is a medical campus, and a planned development would support that campus,” said Mitch Goplen, vice president of facility services at Billings Clinic. “It will be a mix of commercial and residential and it will all be specified in the planned development agreement.”

In the coming months, that agreement will be forged between Billings Clinic and city planning staff. Such planned development agreements are important tools, Waterton said, because they allow site development standards to be custom-designed.

Pat Davies, associate principal and senior engineer with Sanderson Stewart, said the planned development approach is a “positive alternative” to zoning designations that Billings Clinic — and probably most of the neighbors — would not prefer, such as neighborhood commercial or community commercial zones. Under those designations, Billings Clinic could not exclude uses it doesn’t like if it allows someone else to develop a portion of the 80 acres.

Goplen said that planned development agreements address only general considerations, such as building heights, lighting and parking plans and setbacks. When the agreement is filed with city planners, it becomes a public document that can be inspected by the property’s neighbors – or anyone else who’d like to see it.

“It’s no secret there’s growth on the West End,” said Luke Kobold, Billings Clinic’s director of strategic planning and marketing. “As that growth continues, we will be ready. We take great pride to make sure that whatever we do, we do with integrity and patient focus, because a homelike atmosphere helps people heal better.”

While hospital officials may not yet have it nailed down what future development will look like, they do know what it won’t include.

“We are not going to put in bars, casinos and tattoo parlors,” Kobold said, and an apartment complex was also ruled out. “We will focus on health care services. We know this is a great location, but we don’t know exactly how it will grow.”

Plans could include a variety of development features. Options include a clinic, after-hours care — even an assisted living facility or, down the road, an inpatient facility to complement Billings Clinic’s 56-acre downtown campus.

“If you wait too long and the property around you develops, those developments start to dictate what you can do on your property,” Goplen said. “We know we are landlocked (downtown). We want to get out ahead before too much stuff is dictated on our property.”

The development will occur over time, Kobold said.

“We aren’t going to develop all 80 acres at once,” he said. “We don’t want unhappy neighbors.”

At least one man in attendance sounded neither happy nor unhappy with what could well be his newest neighbor.

“We are not opposed to what you are going to do,” he said about halfway through the meeting, just before he left. “We just don’t know what the hell you’re going to do.”

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