One Potato, C-2 Potato: Hearing set for Tues. on unzoned city area

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Geographically, it represents a tiny portion of the City of Dillon.

But the Potato Cellar area has generated acres and acres of discussion dedicated to its zoning fate at city meetings in recent years.

And that discussion will continue on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 5:30 p.m. with a public hearing on the recommendation of the City of Dillon’s Zoning Commission to change the Potato Cellar area from unzoned to a C-2 Commercial Business District zone.

“The intent of the C-2 Commercial Business District is to provide for a broad range of mutually supportive retail and service functions located in clustered areas bordered on one or more sides by limited arterial streets,” reads 17.64.020 within Chapter 17—Unified Zoning and Development Regulations of the City of Dillon’s ordinances.

Situated between several residential neighborhoods by the railroad tracks and Blacktail Deer Creek near the Beaverhead County Fairgrounds, the Potato Cellar area currently serves as home to mostly a series of grain storage facilities.

After years of exploring and re-exploring the matter, the city’s Zoning Commission last year put forth the idea of creating a new zone for the Potato Cellar area—an ABS (Agricultural Bulk Storage) district.

But after receiving dozens of letters/emails from people, many of them nearby residents expressing alarm over the potential dangers of creating a district that would allow businesses in it to store large amounts of potentially hazardous materials right next to a waterway and residential areas, as well as concerns over how it could increase traffic from large trucks, the Zoning Commission decided at its Nov. 10 meeting to abandon the creation of an ABS designation.

“Now we’re back trying to figure out, though, just what kind of zone do we want to use for the Potato Cellar area?” said Zoning Commission member and Dillon City Councilperson Raymond Graham at that Nov. 10 Zoning Commission meeting after the decision was made to move on from the potential creation of an ABS.

The city subsequently sent out surveys to 54 property owners in the area, with 21 responses sent back to the Zoning Commission. During its Jan. 12 meeting, the Zoning Commission chose to go a different direction with the Potato Cellar area and recommend that it be designated as a C-2—a zone that also covers much of the northside of Dillon along North Montana Street.

Acceptable uses within a C-2 include a wide range of potential business types, including a cocktail lounge or cabaret, a bus terminal, auto fuel or sales, a hotel, broadcast facilities, food processing centers, public housing and retail warehouse outlets, per city ordinances.

“Those responses were varied and all over the place. But, if you will, I think there was a common theme that you can gather from those responses—that the immediate neighborhood wasn’t really interested in challenging the types of businesses that are in that area currently or the types of activities that they are engaged in currently,” said Rich Wassall, of the survey responses submitted by people living immediately around the Potato Cellar area.

“But you kind of defined the thing now by saying we’re going to pound a square peg into a round hole—we’re going to make this a C-2. And C-2 obviously has activities for this currently unzoned area that you’re then going to give your blessing to, potentially, for these businesses to add to the mix that’s currently in the Potato Cellar,” added Wassall, a Dillon City Councilperson who represents the ward within which the Potato Cellar sits.

“That’s not what the residents, surrounding residents in the neighborhood want,” added Wassall.

“So, if you stop now and regather I think you can be more responsive to the citizenry,” continued Wassall, who also spoke out against the ABS designation being assigned to the Potato Cellar at an earlier hearing.

“But if you persist and now that the rock is moving on C-2, pounding that square peg into a round hole, once it gets to the public hearing and the full city council, you’re going to have another mass citizen response to object to whether or not you make it C-2 or C-1. It needs to be some sort of a customized agricultural district that you create,” asserted Wassall, “that will take into account the existing businesses, the existing activities in the Potato Cellar, and that will be applicable, theoretically, to any other area of Dillon in the future that would have agricultural or commercial activities that would be covered by the agricultural district.”

A longtime Zoning Commission member who has continued attending city zoning meetings in the years since he left the commission, Ed Mooney then shared his take on the legal ins and outs of the rezoning process, and the Potato Cellar zoning.

“I think the process is, and I could be wrong, that the commission has to propose a district in order to have the hearing to get the input to then come back and make the decision. It’s also been discussed in this marathon that,” said Mooney, “the existing businesses would be grandfathered.

“Not only would they not be allowed to, or it would be very difficult for them to get approval to expand what they’re doing, but the physical aspects of the area— including the floodplain—restricts almost any development.”

The City of Dillon’s Zoning Commission will host a 5:30 p.m. public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 23 to gain public comment on changing the zoning of the Potato Cellar area from Unzoned to C-2 (Commercial Business District). People may attend the meeting in person at Dillon City Council Chambers, 125 N. Idaho St. in downtown Dillon, but are asked to wear a face covering and observe social distancing. Those wishing to attend remotely may do so by using Zoom with the ID 770-316-6528 and passcode 4245. People may also forward written comments to Dillon City Hall, 125 N. Idaho St. Dillon, MT 59725

For more information, call 683-4245.