The Alberta Bair Theater wants to move about 16 feet out onto Third Avenue North and the Billings City Council, after a lengthy discussion Monday night, will likely decide the issue in December.
The ABT currently is drawing up a massive remodel of the building and engaged in a capital campaign to raise $12 million. The remodel calls for extending the exterior wall of the theater on Third Avenue North to the curb of the current sidewalk, and moving the sidewalk into the parking spots on the street.
The move would eliminate parking along that section of Third Avenue and skew its two lanes of traffic roughly 15 degrees south of where it currently runs. It would also change parking on the opposite side of Third Avenue in front of This House of Books. The 12 angled parking spots there would be changed to seven parallel parking spots.
The changes were significant enough that city engineers denied the Alberta Bair's encroachment request earlier this month, which kicked the issue up to the city council on appeal Monday night.
City engineer Debi Meling explained to the council that because the encroachment request was so substantial and didn't meet enough of the engineering department's criteria that it seemed appropriate for city council members to weigh in and either approve or deny it.
In the end, the council directed city engineers to meet again with Alberta Bair's design team to see if the encroachment could be brought back toward the building a few feet or if needed to extend as far as it did into the street. They will then report back to the council no later than its Dec. 17 meeting, at which point council members will decide the issue.
Michael Sanderson of Sanderson Stewart, the design firm that drew up the plans for the new sidewalk and street adjustment, walked council members through the proposed changes, noting that the two buildings across the street and the one next door to the theater offered their support.
"This has been a long process to get here," Sanderson told the council. "I encourage you to support moving this forward to completion."
The entire council expressed support for the encroachment. But council members Richard Clark and Chris Friedel wanted first to see if there was a way to move the new sidewalk back a few feet.
If there's not, that's fine, Friedel said. He just wanted to make sure each side had done its due diligence.