A developer's plans to build two four-plexes at Boulder Avenue and Rehberg Lane -- expected to be met with neighborhood opposition -- sailed through the Billings City Council on a unanimous vote Monday night.
Before the vote, Councilman Denis Pitman asked other developers to take note: "This is the way the process should work," he said.
At the meeting, the last one of 2013, the council also approved a parking variance for a Grand Avenue gym, accepted a corporate gift of a high-speed Internet connection for the new library, and created an ad hoc committee to look at street closures for a variety of events.
The developer of the four-plexes, Jeremy Freyenhagen, plans to build the units to house his daughter, who has disabilities, as well as some of her friends and other with similar needs.
Four people spoke against his plans when Freyenhagen presented them to the City Zoning Commission. He needed a special review to put multifamily housing in an area zoned Residential-60.
After the Zoning Commission hearing, Freyenhagen met with neighbors and made several major changes to his plans. He reduced the four-plexes from two stories to one, reduced the number of bedrooms per unit from three to two and pledged to build a privacy fence on the south, north and west sides of the property.
As a result, Allen Kirkwood, who was there to present petitions from neighbors opposed to the project, said he felt obliged to submit the petitions but would be removing his own name.
He said he didn't know how other neighbors felt, but he found nothing to object to in Freyenhagen's new plans.
One other neighbor spoke, but Jerry Dalton did so only to plead with the council to upgrade Boulder Avenue east of Rehberg, saying the road has been in terrible condition for decades.
Powerful testimony in favor of Freyenhagen's plans was delivered by Zach Smith, who said Freyenhagen was his Special Olympics swimming coach. After listing his impressive accomplishments as a swimmer, Smith said he looked forward to living in the flour-plexes among some of his friends.
Freyenhagen told the council he hopes to break ground in the spring and have the new housing completed by next fall.
A parking variance was granted to the owner of a building at 2940 Grand Ave., on behalf of Beartooth Crossfit, which intends to move into the building.
A gym would normally have to provide 12 parking spots on the site, but the council will allow it to stick with the eight it has now because the the Crossfit classes would accommodate only three to five people at a time.
The council also accepted a donation of high-speed broadband Internet access for the new Billings Public Library, scheduled to open Jan. 6. Integra Telecom Corp. is proposing to donate the services, valued at $270,000, for five years.
After the vote, the council enthusiastically thanked the company for the donation.
The ad hoc committee created Monday will be asked to make recommendations to the council on a policy balancing the benefits of allowing certain events to take place on closed city streets with the needs of businesses and residents.
In other action, the council voted to renew its contract with the Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter to continue operating the Billings Animal Shelter through July 1, 2016.
It also voted to approve a 10-year renewal of a lease with the state of Montana, under which the city administers the 79.5-acre Norm's Island and a neighboring parcel of 5.6 acres.
The new lease will also include the 71-acre Darling Island, which is at the downstream end of the Riverfront Park complex. Norm's Island sits on the upstream end.