FedEx wins unanimous approval of annexation, zone change

2013-03-25T20:57:00Z 2013-04-09T07:31:05Z FedEx wins unanimous approval of annexation, zone changeBy ED KEMMICK ekemmick@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Having won over their neighbors in a West End business park, FedEx Ground won over the Billings City Council on Monday night.

After hearing that FedEx had agreed to a laundry list of concessions and improvements at its proposed transportation hub at Gabel and Hesper roads, the council voted unanimously to allow the company to proceed with its plans.

It did so with two votes -- one approving the annexation of 97 acres of open ground and the other granting a request for a zone change appropriate for the FedEx facility.

In the face of stiff opposition from nearby interests, including most of the tenants of the Transtech Center business park, the council voted last month to continue consideration of both matters for 30 days.

Representatives of SunCap Property Group, a North Carolina development company working for FedEx, made good use of the delay, holding meetings and teleconferences as late as Monday afternoon in an effort to deal with their neighbors' concerns.

Mayor Tom Hanel said the process "was probably one of the finest examples" he'd ever seen of groups working out their differences for the common good.

"This is what the city of Billings is all about," he said.

Jon Phillips, first vice president for SunCap, said after the vote that work will probably begin on the site in May and the truck center will be fully operational by late summer 2014.

He told the council earlier that FedEx will spend $38.6 million on the project and will pay $500,000 a year in property taxes. SunCap representatives had said previously that the facility will hire 200 people initially, and eventually as many as 400 people.

The opponents were mainly concerned about the look and orientation of the building, landscaping, air quality and impacts on local traffic.

Phillips and Ken Peterson, a local attorney representing many of the Transtech tenants, said all those issues had been addressed one way or another.

FedEx has agreed to build a concrete-walled building either sage or taupe in color, and to change the building's orientation so that most of the docks and parking areas will be on the west side of the property, not on the east facing Transtech.

There will also be an 8-foot berm along the southern and eastern edges of the property, in addition to twice the amount of landscaping required by local regulations.

As for traffic, two local engineers with Dowl HKM testified that traffic studies predict minimal impact -- 670 vehicle trips per day generated by FedEx, compared with 3,500 a day generated by the businesses in Transtech.

An expert under contract to SunCap, who gave her lengthy air-quality study to the City Council last week, summarized that the FedEx center would have a negligible impact on local air quality.

On the basis of those concessions, Peterson told the council before the vote, his clients in the Transtech Center had formally withdrawn their protests of the zone change. Matt Brosovich, the developer of much land to the south of Transtech, had already withdrawn his protest last week.

Earlier in the meeting, the council approved another annexation and zone change, this one involving 64 acres of mostly vacant land at 1228 and 1236 Mullowney Lane. It will change from a mix of agricultural open space and highway commercial zoning to all highway commercial.

The council also voted to send a notice of default to the Billings Community Youth Foundation, which held a lease on a portion of Centennial Park on the West End.

The group, which had hoped to develop two ice-skating rinks on the site, had failed to meet the terms of the lease agreement in recent years.

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