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Great Falls Planning Advisory Board moves to allow church permit

Posted at 7:03 AM, Jul 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-29 09:05:35-04

The Great Falls Planning Advisory Board/Zoning Commission unanimously approved two motions Tuesday at a public hearing related to a proposed church moving downtown.

The board approved the conditional use permit that would allow the Calvary Church of Cascade County to move into the unoccupied space at 427 Central Avenue.

Before that, the board approved an ordinance that allows the city to work around the state’s 600-foot rule. Montana law prevents liquor licenses from being issued within 600 feet of a church, but cities can modify that rule in certain zones.

The concern from the public and the board was that allowing the church to move downtown could hinder future development. After hearing from the public, the board will add language to the ordinance that would allow gaming licenses within 600 feet as well.

"I’m satisfied with our passing of the ordinance, and then adding the gaming to it as well to protect the downtown businesses and development, and also have those uses in congruence with places of worship as well,” board chair Peter Fontana said.

The motions now go to the Great Falls City Commission for approval.

(JUNE 25, 2020) Montana state law doesn’t allow for liquor licenses to be issued within 600 feet of a church, which sets up a possible conflict in downtown Great Falls after the Calvary Chapel recently filed for a conditional use permit to occupy the empty space at 427 Central Avenue.

Great Falls Planning and Community Development director Craig Raymond said his department began receiving calls from the downtown community soon after the filing. “Once word started getting out in the street that a church was wanting to locate in the downtown…we started hearing about some concerns from the community,” he said.

The proposed location at 427 Central wouldn’t affect the nearby drinking establishments that already exist, but the worry is about future development of bars and taverns downtown. Luckily, provisions in state law allow the city the option to create an ordinance that could sidestep the 600-foot rule, meaning a win-win situation may be possible.

“It was kind of putting the city commission on a collision course to make a decision: ‘What's more important to you? Bars and taverns, or a church?’ Which is kind of an awkward, challenging position to be put into,” Raymond said. “We learned that it might be possible for us to alleviate some of that inherent conflict. We're going bring it to the city commission and see if they happen to agree with us that maybe they can be located closer together.”

Raymond said his department plans to build a recommendation for both the church’s permit and a new alcohol ordinance at the same time, likely in late July. From there it goes to the City Commission, with a final decision not likely until August or September.