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Conoco station on Mullowney to become new bar and casino, city approves 100-acre housing development in Alkali Creek
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Conoco station on Mullowney to become new bar and casino, city approves 100-acre housing development in Alkali Creek

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City Hall exterior

Billings City Council chambers is pictured in this 2017 file photo.

Billings' new zoning regulations got a workout Monday night as city council members grappled with the development of a new bar and casino and a residential project near the proposed Inner Beltloop near Alkali Creek.

The bar and casino will be developed in the existing Conoco convenience store and gas station on Mullowney Lane. Its neighbors include three hotels, a Holiday convenience store and Adam & Eve, an adult recreation store.

"I don't think we could have found a better place for a casino," said council member Mike Boyett, referring to the 2 years council members and staff spent on creating specific zoning requirements for casinos within Project Re:Code, the city's new zoning regulations.

"This is a good thing," he said. "It works for all of us."

The Conoco was built in the early 1980s and closed late last year, when it was purchased by businessman Jay Doucette as O E D, LLC.

Doucette's plans include converting the convenience store into the Wild Tornado bar and casino and keeping the gas pumps; he's applied to renew the fuel franchise agreement with Conoco.

The alcohol and gaming license Doucette will use is a license he acquired from another business in Billings. 

Council members spent much of their discussion debating the height of the sign in front of the Conoco. New city code requires business signs to be no more that 20 feet tall. The current sign, which would stay, is 25 feet high. 

Doucette requested the sign's current height be allowed and the zoning commission agreed, making that recommendation to council.

Council member Roy Neese argued that if the city is going to use new zoning requirements it needs to follow those requirements and asked that the sign be required to be lowered.

Nicole Cromwell, the city's code enforcement director, explained that older signs with a height that exceeds only 20% or less of the required 20-feet height be allowed to stand until the business makes major improvements.

In the end, council unanimously approved the new business with the old sign height intact. However, council required that if the gas station portion of the building go away that Doucette landscape the gas pump area according to city code requirements. 

Across town in the Heights, council approved the first new residential development to be built near the planned Inner Beltloop. The city has hoped that construction of the beltloop, which will connect the Heights with the city's West End, will also spur new business and residential growth. 

The new 104-acre housing development on Alkali Creek Road south of Skyway Drive will be called Alkali Timbers and is county land that will be annexed in three phases by the city. 

The first phase was annexed and approved Monday night. Phase 2 will be annexed in January 2025 and Phase 3 will be annexed in January of 2029. 

The process of annexing and approving the development uses a new tool created by the city designed to allow the simultaneous annexation and construction of housing developments. 

In the past, these types of housing developments were completely built on county land following county code and then annexed into the city, which then required a number of infrastructure upgrades and other changes, which was costly to the city. 

By tackling the process at the same time, the city can require the development to follow city code as the neighborhood is constructed. 

The Alkali Timbers development and what it means for the Heights and the development of the Inner Beltloop elicited strong reactions from council. 

"I'm excited about this project," said council member Kendra Shaw.  

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