Residents living around 54th Street West and Grand Avenue will soon have a microbrewery and restaurant joining the neighborhood.
In a crowded council chamber, more than a dozen people spoke in support of changing the zoning in the small commercial development on the north side of Grand Avenue to allow for the microbrewery and restaurant. The restaurant will have a beer and wine licence, but no gaming.
Some neighbors in the area had been vocal about opposing the zone change; the council received about a dozen emails and letters urging them not to allow the change. However, at the meeting Monday night, public comment was dominated by supporters of the project.
Both council members Penny Ronning and Shaun Brown commented that had more opponents showed up, they might have better made their case.
Instead, supporters of the project and of the owners — Michael and Tyler Schmechel — were there to make a case for allowing the new businesses into the neighborhood. The Schmechels own Montana Brewing Co. downtown along with other restaurants in the state.
The development would be 25 feet from the back of the nearest neighborhood, Cottonwood Grove, and two blocks down Grand Avenue from Ben Steele Middle School.
Dominating much of the discussion was The Den, a casino and bar that received approval last year by the city council to relocate from West Park Promenade to the same development. The Den received fierce opposition from the surrounding neighborhoods.
In making his case to the council, Scott Aspenlieder of Performance Engineering, who represents the landowners, told the council the microbrewery and restaurant would be a completely different operation.
"This does not look anything like The Den," he told them. "This is something to fit within the community."
The landscaping, building design and atmosphere will echo the area's agrarian past, he said. The goal is to make it as appealing as possible to the surrounding neighborhoods because that's the development's potential customer base, he said.
"We feel like we have something that is going to fit the feel of the community," he said.
Notably, speaking in opposition was Terra Pierce, who owns the Den with her husband Rich Wrobel.
Pierce told the council the zoning change to allow the development was wholly inappropriate, noting that the Schmechels were able to purchase the land at a lower cost than if the property had already been zoned to allow their business. She reminded the council she had paid significantly more for her property.
She then told council members no resident wanted a brewery 25 feet from their neighborhood, which, given the history of The Den's relocation in roughly the same spot, elicited laughs from the crowd gathered at the meeting.
The council, short two members, voted 8-1 in favor of the development. Mike Yakawich was the sole dissenting vote, told the group he felt he needed to be the voice of the neighbors who opposed.