Protests from local residents weren't enough to persuade Yellowstone County commissioners to kill a proposal for a lighted, paved parking lot near the new Big Sky Auto Auction.
After listening to arguments for and against the proposal for an hour, commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a special review for the 20-acre parcel at 4432 S. Frontage Road, just south of the auto auction. The new parking lot would be an expansion of the auction's existing lot.
The county Zoning Commission voted 3-0 to deny the special review during a hearing May 12. The City-County Planning Department also recommended that the commissioners deny the special review because the developer submitted an inadequate site plan and because the parking lot is close to Riverfront Park.
County Commissioners attached conditions to the special-review permit. They said the parcel may be used only for parking cars. It must be surrounded by an 8-foot chain-link fence and must include special lights that limit light pollution for nearby residents. No wrecked vehicles or transport trucks will be allowed in the parking lot.
The parking lot must have a surface of gravel, millings or pavement. Storm runoff must be contained, and no public access will be allowed from Orchard Lane, commissioners said.
Proponents, mainly representing the business community, said they welcomed the additional activity that has resulted since the auto auction moved to its location south of Interstate 90.
Phil Hammond, representing Rocky Mountain Bank, said the auto auction is a good customer and supports a large payroll. The business also has contributed to many local nonprofit organizations, he said.
"It has been a good neighbor of ours" by generating new business, said Jeff Muri, owner of the Billings Hotel and Convention Center.
Neighbors complained about heavy truck traffic, odors from the auction's paint shop and air pollution from idling trucks used to transport cars. They also objected to additional development close to Riverfront Park.
"I think this whole thing is crazy," said Rod Povsha, who lives at 1147 Orchard Lane. "There's no way this should be allowed."
"It's a win-win for the bank and the auto auction, but what about the residents who live there?" said Patrick Holm, who lives at 1004 Mirco Circle. "When are we going to have a voice?"
Several of those who protested during Tuesday's public hearing are among the plaintiffs who filed suit last year to block the auto auction from being built. In their complaint, the plaintiffs said a city-approved zone change allowing the auto auction is illegal.
Jim Capser, an owner of Big Sky Auto Auction, said the parking lot would be quiet and would have no effect on Riverfront Park.
"It's incomprehensible that parking cars hundreds of feet from away from the park would have an adverse impact," Capser said.
Capser said the fenced, lighted parking lot is needed because trespassers are intruding on the auction's property.