Initial design review underway for three proposed Ennis developments

All would be located in the North 40 neighborhood

Three developers met with the Ennis Town Commission on Feb. 9 to discuss their proposals for development plans in the town. Nothing concrete was decided at the nearly three-hour zoning-intensive meeting, which served as more of a “getting to know each other” gathering for the developers and commissioners.

Commissioner Lisa Roberts explained, as a small town, Ennis does not have a planning director, but rather relies on the county to help out and answer questions. Usually they’re dealing with one house, not multiple unit developments. “With all of these projects, I would just ask for patience, I know sometimes that’s hard, but we want to make sure we are doing this right,” she said.

My Willow, LLC Condo Project

Located on Block 2 of the North 40 development, this proposed residential development would be located on one 1.5-acre lot. The plan consists of three, 39-foot-tall condos with four units each. Residential height regulations currently cap buildings at 25 feet, but this regulation is under discussion to be raised to up to 30 feet.

Parking and storage were concerns for one commissioner– the project includes one garage space, another immediately behind it, as well as six additional spaces. That would be 18 spaces for 12 units. My Willow project representatives said the plan would include some type of storage opportunity in the area near the mechanical room as well as in the oversized garages.

Landscaping was also discussed. Commissioner Roberts requested that the units have good access to sidewalks in order to maintain the walkability of the neighborhood.

Noting that the town had expressed concern with water usage monitoring, a representative for the project said water use would be metered and monitored with 12 water service meters – one per unit, accessible by the town in the mechanical room of each building if needed. A six-inch sewer service line would run from each of the three units.

Tight Lines, LLC Live/Work Project

This development is slated to be located on block three of the North 48 and would include 13 detached live/work units on 1.71 acres. Each 27-foot unit would have two bedrooms located on the top floor with 1,000 feet of workspace on the lower level.

The live/work model was originally a commercial building that can also be lived in and allows people an alternative from buying a home as well as a shop for their small businesses or storage of things like boats and RVs. Massage, exercise and art studios and even raft services could also fill the lower levels.

Two commissioners expressed concerns that the North 40’s original plans envisioned a neighborhood with more shopping opportunities rather than things like garages with Bobcats and heavy equipment. “This is not exactly the use we might be looking for, in my opinion,” said Roberts.

Developer Brett Tudsbury stated that the project is meant to be low-impact, and that concerns about heavy equipment being parked in the parking lot could be addressed via covenants requiring shop storage restricting overnight parking.

“We want it to look more residential than it does industrial or commercial,” he said. “The idea is, make this something that’s attainable and affordable for the people of the community where you’re not budgeting for a commercial space and a residential space, you’re going to get everything all in one.”

The project did not allot sufficient parking per local ordinance, but the representative said more can be added, though this would take up more green space. “We want to provide as much open space and greenery as we can, primarily because it is an entry corridor, so keeping this as good looking as possible is a priority for the owners,” said Justin Houser of Houser Engineering.

Highlands 3 SP, LLC Apartment Building Project

Joe Finley, developer for this 126-apartment project explained that he and his partner recently pivoted from ranching to addressing housing needs in Montana, “and are looking to give back by investing locally.” They currently have a project underway in Bozeman, and as they saw the demand for long-term housing in Madison County, they looked to Ennis for their next project.

“We have no desire to sell them condominiums,” said Finley, “this is for long-term housing options for people in Ennis. Speaking with a number of people in town, the hospital and other businesses, are looking for places to have young professionals and other members of the community to have quality long-term housing.”

The development includes Blocks 1, 4 and 6 of the North 40 neighborhood. The proposal calls for nine buildings with 14 apartment units each, totaling 126 predominantly one and two-bedroom residences on at total of 7.1 acres on three lots.

The proposed number of units is much higher than current residential town density zoning regulations of eight units per acre, or 56 units, for the project area. Commissioners are looking at a proposal to add a high-density residential district which would raise that number from eight to 12 units per acre in another area, which could open the opportunity to allow that density in the North 40.

Commissioners debated the pros and cons of allowing more units in the area, citing the extreme need for housing but also the fear of opening “Pandora’s box” to other large-scale developments wanting to exceed regulations as well as the implications of growing the population rapidly.

This project, commissioners explained, will take much more time and community input to move forward with than the other two.

Looking ahead

As traditional neighborhood developments, the My Willow and Tight Lines developments are subject to the town council’s requirements on setback density. The larger development is located on roadways designated as residential town density, which grants eight dwelling units per acre. Zoning and density variants or a decrease in unit numbers would be required for that project to move forward.

Next, Alex Hogle, director of the Madison County Planning Office will look over the proposals. Developers will also provide the commission with updated plans addressing commission concerns such as covenants, siding color, landscaping, sidewalks, runoff and water and sewer. The updated plans will be discussed at a March meeting at which time they may potentially be voted upon.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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