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A block-long apartment complex that was opposed by some neighbors won the blessing of the Billings City Council on Tuesday night.

The council voted 8-2 to approve a special review that will allow McDonald Land Holdings to build two four-plexes and four six-plexes on the 1600 block of Avenue E.

The two "no" votes were cast by the Ward 3 council members, Becky Bird and Rich McFadden, in whose ward the development will be built. Ward 1 Councilman Brent Cromley abstained.

Five neighbors spoke against the project, most of them raising concerns about plans to pave the alley between Avenues E and F. They warned of traffic congestion, unsafe walking conditions and a loss of privacy, among other things.

Neighbor Len Richards said it would be a "horrible precedent" if the council were to approve turning a normal alley into what will essentially be a paved city street providing the only access to half the proposed apartments.

Another neighbor, Susan Barrow, said McDonald owned the old apartments that used to be on the site and allowed them to fall into disrepair. And Rainbow Property Management, which managed the old apartments, will also manage the new ones, she said.

She said Rainbow never responded to complaints about problem tenants or overflowing trash receptacles.

Jane Kukes-Penney, a representative of the McDonalds, said Rainbow had managed the apartments since 2007 and never received a complaint. She also said she was also in charge of telling residents about the plans for the site, and most of those she talked to supported what they were doing.

Greg McDonald said the land company was started by his late father, Sam McDonald, and that he and his sister now run it.

"I do understand the heartburn of the neighbors," he said, but he vowed that he and his sister would take good care of the new apartment complex. He said it will be a big improvement on what was there before and will consequently be higher-priced and will attract older, better-off tenants.

Other representatives of the McDonalds, including an architect and a real estate agent, said the development will be a great improvement that will be safer than what was there and will raise property values in the surrounding neighborhood.

Before voting to approve the special review, the council added two conditions to the lengthy list of conditions recommended by the City Zoning Commission. One will put in writing what the McDonalds have already promised to do — build new privacy fences for all neighbors north of the alley who want one.

The other condition will require the installation of "speed tables" in the alley. Public Works Director Dave Mumford said those are similar to speed bumps but are wider and not as steep, and are good at keeping traffic down to reasonable speeds.

After spending 90 minutes on that agenda item, the council quickly acted on the other items. It unanimously approved special reviews for the expansion of  Apostles Evangelical Lutheran Church at 3140 Broadwater Ave. and for plans to build a private Montessori school at 4809 Grand Ave.

A request to annex seven acres of mostly vacant land on the north and south sides of Interstate Avenue just west of Mullowney Lane was approved, as was a request to de-annex 6.6 acres of undeveloped land between Alkali Creek Road and Highway 3.

The council also OK'd a zone change that will allow the developers of the Lenhardt Square subdivision near Shiloh Road and King Avenue West to increase the maximum density from 15 dwelling units per acre to 20.



I cover the city of Billings.