Staff at Ben Steele Middle School might have a new place to go drown their troubles and gamble some of their newly negotiated raise when the bell rings at the end of the school day.

The Billings Zoning Commission voted 5-0 Wednesday to allow The Den, a lounge and casino, to move from its current location in West Park Promenade to a proposed new development at Grand Avenue and 54th Street West, two blocks east of Ben Steele Middle School.

The Billings City Council will consider the request after a public hearing during its Nov. 27 business meeting.

Developers plan to build a multi-tenant building on the lot. The Den, which has been at West Park for five decades, would be one of a handful of businesses that would set up shop there, taking possession of a 5,000-square-foot space.

"While the school is close by, it is not within 600 feet of the subject property," Nicole Cromwell wrote in a Zoning Commission memo. Cromwell is the zoning coordinator for the City-County Planning Division.

City zoning requires businesses that hold an all-beverage liquor license with gaming to be at least 600 feet from schools, houses of worship and other similar facilities.

The Vineyard Church, also located at the intersection of 56th Street West and Grand Avenue, is also more than 600 feet from the proposed development.

The Den, a lounge and casino at West Park Promenade, will sit on Chy Way, just west of the intersection of 54th Street West and Grand Avenue, following Monday's Billings City Council approval of its special review request.  CASEY PAGE, Gazette Staff

The lot being developed is zoned community commercial, which allows for nearly all types of commercial development. That's by design. Years ago, the city created the West Billings Neighborhood Plan to give direction and structure to the area west of Shiloh Road. Parcels of land, like the lot at Grand and 54th Street West, were rezoned from agriculture open space to community commercial.

Along Grand near 54th Street West, three neighborhoods have gone up, one of which is directly across Grand Avenue from where The Den would set up shop. Directly across 54th Street West from the proposed development will be the new Albertsons grocery store and its drive-through pharmacy.

"The demand for everyday neighborhood services such as coffee shops, small restaurants, day care, convenience shopping, pharmacies and similar services is growing," Cromwell said.

Terra Pierce, who operates The Den, told the commission that she hopes to attract other businesses such as a yogurt or coffee shop, a day care — “even our dentist is interested,” she said — at the new location.

“We think we need community-friendly businesses,” she said.

“I was out there today,” Commissioner Dennis Ulvestad said. “They do need something out there.”

Opportunity knocks

The commission also approved, by a 4-1 vote with Ulvestad opposed, another special review, this one for two drive-through services for a proposed new bank and other businesses near the intersection of N. 27th Street and Tenth Avenue North.

The council will likewise hold a public hearing before deciding on the proposal on Nov. 27.

Opportunity Bank is proposing to build on the site, and a restaurant could also be included, as well as a parking area. David Mitchell with Coldwell Banker Commercial said there are “several ideas” for a restaurant in discussion, but nothing is yet “set in stone.”

He said developers have not yet discussed with city officials whether fans attending ballgames at Dehler Park would be allowed to use the parking lot. He said that discussion will occur as plans are further developed.