After weeks of mounting contention over plans by FedEx Ground to build a large transportation hub on the West End, a truce was called Monday night.
A representative of the development company working for FedEx on the project asked the City Council for a 30-day continuance so the company can attempt to respond to objections raised by neighboring property owners.
The council, which had been scheduled to vote on annexing 97 acres northwest of the intersection of Hesper and Gabel roads, and then on a zone change that would have paved the way for the hub on 50 acres of that land, delayed both votes to March 25.
Tim Filz, the local attorney speaking on behalf of SunCap Property Group, the developer of the FedEx project, said he had "productive communications" when he met Monday afternoon with several neighbors.
Attorney Ken Peterson, who represents nine property owners opposed to the project, told the council he was not "overly optimistic" about reaching a compromise with SunCap but that his clients did not object to the postponement.
After the meeting, Peterson said he was pessimistic because "the people out there are pretty adamant" that they don't want FedEx to build a hub in that location. All of them would welcome FedEx to Billings, he said, but not at Hesper and Gabel.
Most of the opponents have businesses in the Transtech Center, a business park just east of the proposed development. They have said a trucking center would not be compatible with the upscale corporate buildings, medical facilities and other businesses in Transtech Center.
They have also expressed concerns about heavy truck traffic adding to congestion in the area and the possibility of dangerously high levels of air pollution from trucks, particularly those idling at the FedEx hub.
Filz said he and SunCap representatives will continue meeting with nearby landowners to see if some or all of their concerns can be dealt with before March 25.
SunCap said in documents submitted to the council that FedEx planned to build a $37 million, 147,000-square-foot facility that would employ 200 people at the outset, and as many as 400 in the future. It said wages would average between $37,000 and $46,000 a year.
The 97 acres, which remain in the county until the land is annexed, are zoned open-agricultural space. The developers were seeking a zoning designation of controlled industrial, identical to the zoning on city land abutting the property.
Before the council took up consideration of the annexation and zone change, Mayor Tom Hanel asked council members to disclose whether they had already decided how to vote on either issue, based on outside communications with parties on either side of the issue.
That request was in response to a letter from SunCap and property owner representative Greg MacDonald, who told the council last week that opponents of the project had been putting undue pressure on several council members.
Council members Jim Ronquillo and Becky Bird both acknowledged having attended a meeting of adjacent landowners last month, but they said they felt no pressure and hadn't decided how to vote before the meeting.
Both of them declined to recuse themselves from the votes, but Councilman Brent Cromley, an attorney, did, saying his firm had represented FedEx in the past.