City Commission meeting focused on future of mill building

By: 
DEB HILL
Managing Editor

Several of the items on the City Commission’s Monday meeting agenda dealt with the same thing: the future of the mill building on the former WestFeeds property on Main Street.

The brick building, built in 1925, recently became the focus of both redevelopment and preservation groups. On Monday, with all commissioners present except Beth Putnam and Gayle Doney, the City Commission weighed in.

The Commission unanimously approved having Interim City Manager Holly Phelps sign both a request for assistance and an access consent for a targeted brownfields assessment of the building.

Snowy Mountain Development Corporation representative Karen Sweeney said the agreements allow for use of EPA funding to assess the structure for lead paint, asbestos and other contaminants. SMDC has the funding, but an application for assistance is necessary.

“This work would be done at no cost to the City, and you will need to do it whether the building is renovated or demolished,” Sweeney told the commissioners.

The commissioners went on to consider a resolution supporting the development of Creekside Park, including a request for $5,000 from the City as matching funds for a Big Sky Trust Fund Planning Grant.

Creekside Park is a proposal by the Youth Empowerment Committee of the Recharge Our Community process, and involves turning the area along and behind the former WestFeeds property into a community park with an amphitheater, playground, restrooms and possible outdoor dining area.

Sweeney explained how much outreach the committee has done, including public meetings, social media postings and surveys.

“We need to do some fundraising and hire an architect to refine the plan for the park,” Sweeney said. “We are responding to input from the public, so the plan could change. For example, we proposed an amphitheater but based on public comment, we might look at turning that into a theater. We want this to be a community gathering place with music, markets and maybe even brewfests.”

“This is a tremendous plan; I think it will make a tremendous park,” City Parks and Recreation Director Jim Daniels told the commission.

 “A more detailed plan would put some flesh on the skeleton of what’s been proposed,” Commission Chairman Dave Byerly said.

Some in the audience questioned the future of the mill building, which current plans do not show as part of Creekside Park. Members of the City’s Historic Resources Commission asked for time to conduct a structural review of the mill building.

“We’ve made arrangements for a structural assessment and architect review of the building to be done soon, paid for by private money,” Duane Ferdinand, historic preservation officer told the commissioners.

“Let us do the study,” Historic Resources Commission member Jim Dullenty said. “If we find the building is structurally unsound, we’ll be the first to say so.”

Byerly asked the audience to hold their comments on the mill building for the next item on the agenda, and the commissioners unanimously approved Resolution 3921, supporting the development of Creekside Park and authorizing matching funds for the planning grant.

 

Commission has no position yet on mill building

After the vote, Byerly opened a discussion on the future of the mill building by reading a written statement, reiterating the commission has not yet taken a position on the building.

“We have had a number of people express concern that the City of Lewistown intends to keep and invest money in the old mill building on Main Street across from the Yogo Inn. The Lewistown City Commission, at this time, has not discussed and has no plans for investing in the existing building,” Byerly’s statement read, in part.

“The last thing we need is for people to be asking if the City has lost its mind,” Byerly said. “I want to slow this train down. Either we keep the building or it has to go, but the Commission has not discussed it and has no opinion on the building. I do have a strong opinion in support of Creekside Park, but we are not even close to making a decision on the building. I don’t know why we are even talking about this right now.”

“I think you’ve only heard one side of the issue,” Dullenty said. “We’ve gone ahead with private funding to find out if the building is usable. As members of the Historic Resources Commission, we have the authority to do that.”

Harvey Nyberg, Historic Resources Committee member, suggested a member of the HRC be designated to work with the Trails Coordinating Committee and ROC Youth Empowerment Committee for joint discussions on Creekside Park, “so ideas don’t come in from left field.”

Commission Vice Chair Frank Gremaux said he agreed with Nyberg, adding that he did not think planning for the park and the future of the mill building should be separate discussions.

“People in Lewistown need to hear from the commission that we haven’t made a decision [on the building] yet,” Commissioner Diana Hewitt said.

 

In Other Business

• The Commission heard a presentation by Julie Stiteler, housing project manager for Homeword, regarding The Meadows senior housing on Sixth Street. Stiteler told the commissioners the owners of the property, who live in Minnesota, are divesting themselves of properties that are geographically far away from them. They want the property to remain as senior housing, with rental subsidies. Stiteler said the development was built in 1978, and some major systems need replacing. Stiteler promoted the use of Housing Tax Credits as a funding source for needed repairs and renovations.

• The Commission unanimously approved paying back taxes of just under $1,000 on the LaFountain portion of the Reid’s building. The City will hold a lien on that part of the Reid’s property after these remaining unpaid taxes are paid.

• A resolution raising floodplain application fees to $100 was unanimously approved.

 

 

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