The Billings Zoning Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved special review to allow Friendship House of Christian Service to demolish a blighted dwelling and build a 10-space parking lot at the corner of Eighth Avenue South and South 31st Street, across the street from Friendship House.
The city council is scheduled to decide the issue during its Feb. 26 meeting.
The Rev. Matt Lundgren, Friendship House executive director, said the lot will be used to park Friendship House's fleet of vehicles — five 15-passenger vans, two minivans, a car and a school bus. Friendship House is a Christian ministry that serves Billings youth from preschool to high school.
The new lot will increase on-street parking availability in the South Side neighborhood and improve the safety of the 100 or so children Friendship House transports each day, Lundgren said.
“When children leave our care with their parents, students will often run in between the parked Friendship House vehicles and out to the street,” Lundgren said in a letter to the Zoning Commission. “Oncoming vehicles have little visibility and little chance to slow down to avoid a collision.
"We’re fortunate to not have had an accident. There have been too many close calls involving Friendship House children.”
In addition, cars are often parked, airport terminal style, two and three deep on Eighth Avenue South near Friendship House as parents and guardians wait to pick up children. In that environment, “all too often cars come zipping through, and kids are at risk of being hit,” Lundgren told commissioners.
The landscaped, fenced parking lot “will allow us to be better neighbors by not taking up the entire allotment of on-street parking in the neighborhood,” he wrote to the commission.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Jessica Sprattler, a Friendship House parent, called parking around Friendship House “terrible.”
“It’s a mess in the afternoon and the evening,” she said, adding that neighbors “have yelled at me for parking in front of their house.”
Arciela Meza, a Friendship House teacher, said it can be a challenge to ensure that students are able to exit vans and cross safely into the building.
“As teachers, we don’t want to take up parents’ parking spaces,” she said. The new lot “will give parents better-designated parking places.”
Lundgren noted Friendship House has cared for and provided services to Billings’ at-risk youngsters for more than 60 years.
When the house on the property where the parking lot is planned for came on the market, “our board took a leap of faith and bought it,” Lundgren said. “Maybe we got the cart before the horse, but if you and the city council say yes, we can move forward.”