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Great Falls planning board discusses code changes for casinos

Great Falls planning board discusses code changes for casinos
Great Falls planning board discusses code changes for casinos
Posted at 10:10 AM, Sep 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-14 12:10:17-04

The City of Great Falls Planning Board on Tuesday discussed an amendment to city code that supporters say will increase the potential for development in the community.

There are currently two requirements that applicants must meet to open casinos on existing properties. They must comply with municipal and state distance requirements that state casinos must not be located with in 600 feet of schools, parks, or worship facilities, and the property must meet the minimum square footage for landscaping requirements.

The amendment proposed to the board will essentially get rid of the municipal codes, leaving applicants to only have to deal with the state codes which are noted to be much easier to meet.

Tom Micuda, deputy director of the city Planning & Community Development department, said, “There's only so many licenses that are available to business owners, and essentially because we've exceeded our quota, we get very few requests. it's rarely somebody who wants to build a brand new casino in great falls because it's just very hard to do now.”

Background information from the board meeting (PDF):

The applicant for the proposed text amendment owns the property located at 2416 11th Avenue South. He is interested in selling the property to a buyer who would like to reuse a portion of the building for a casino. The building is currently vacant, but was previously occupied by a casino business known as “Bingo Bonanza.” A valid state gaming license is still available, which led to both the building owner and potential buyer approaching City staff to determine whether a casino could be re-established on the property

The amendment proposes to eliminate all the special landscaping requirements for Type I Casinos. This change can be found on Page 5 of Exhibit A. This does not eliminate the need to landscape casino developments if such projects involve new construction, building expansions, or additional parking areas. It simply removes the requirement to retrofit landscaping for casinos moving into existing buildings.

The amendment proposes to eliminate all the various special distance requirements in locating Type I and Type II Casinos near churches, schools, parks, playgrounds, and residential zoning districts. This can be found on pages 5 and 6 of Exhibit A. This is not an issue for the applicant’s request, but has been an issue that has created challenges for both staff to administer as well as other property owners wishing to establish casinos. It is important to note that the State of Montana distance requirements would still be applicable to anyone seeking a gaming license. Staff recommends not duplicating the State’s review process.

Because staff is proposing to eliminate both the special landscaping requirements and the distance requirements for Type I and Type II Casinos, there is no longer a reason to have two types of casinos with two types of special regulations. As a result, staff is proposing to delete the two types and just have one land use – Casino. This change can be found on the color coded land use table on Page 3 of Exhibit A as well as the revised definition on Page 1. Under this proposal, there would only be one type of casino permitted in 5 different zoning districts: C-2, C-4, Airport, I-1, and I-2.

Finally, there have been some challenges in understanding the differences between casinos and what are called accessory gaming activities. Accessory gaming activities are very small gaming areas limited to no more than 500 square feet of space that are clearly accessory to bars, hotels, and restaurants. On page 1 on Exhibit A, staff proposes a minor change to the Casino definition to make this distinction more clear.

Put to a vote, the Planning Advisory Board approved the amendment to the code.