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Front Street Helena

Downtown Helena's streets are shown in this IR file photo.

The Helena City Commission moved several resolutions forward Monday regarding the new downtown zoning code.

Ellie Ray, Helena’s Community Development Department planner and grants coordinator, ran the board through aspects of the new zoning.

Ray explained the goal of the new zoning rules are to both encourage mixed-use development (which means apartments and businesses in the same building) and redeveloping properties throughout the district over the next years.

Visual slides revealed that mixed-use properties can provide higher densities of residents, a thicker mix of activities, services and better transportation and shopping options.

If the rules move forward, God’s Love will be allowed the possibility of future expansion, and another shelter could be allowed in the area. Ray said she had heard from God's Love representatives who were worried that the zoning could impact them in the future.

Commissioner Heather O'Loughlin said God's Love would not be impacted at all.

"We would never do anything to negatively impact God's Love," O'Loughlin said. 

The owners of God's Love could expand the shelter if they so chose, she said. 

O'Loughlin said that all exterior requirements would apply to any building downtown, including homeless shelters and casinos. 

Commissioners considered public comment from more than a dozen people speaking for and against the new downtown and residential areas on Last Chance Gulch.

Ann Truesdale, a Helena resident in the suggested transitional residential district, said she worries for the long-term well-being of the shelter.

“Are we going to move it to where we think it’s suitable to have a shelter?” Truesdale asked the commission. “I think we’re more compassionate as a community than that.”

Mike McCabe, a former member of the Helena Zoning Commission, and current commission member Rebecca Harbage explained how the commission had been working to create the plan over the past two years.

McCabe and Harbage said the new goals were to provide better access and cohesion in the downtown area, with more “walkability” as McCabe phrased it.

Much of the comment on the rezoning was devoted to whether or not the commission would allow a transitional residential area to have more businesses within the neighborhood.

Two Helenans have gathered and submitted 32 signatures and 11 form letters to let the commission know their displeasure with that decision, according to Ray.

Because this is first passage, the commission said they would look at and listen to further comment from the community and continue to work on the zoning plans.

“I fully anticipate we will continue this dialogue,” commissioner Kali Wicks said. “There will be changes.”

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that God’s Love would not be affected by the new zoning.

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Crime and Health Reporter

Crime and health reporter for the Helena Independent Record.

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