Columbia Falls Surveying Residents on Community Needs, Goals

By Beacon Staff

Should Columbia Falls create a dog park? Are the city’s sidewalks adequate, or should more walkways span the neighborhoods near schools? Are downtown zoning regulations prohibiting economic development?

In the coming weeks, city officials will be asking residents a lot of questions in the hope of attracting feedback that could steer changes in Columbia Falls in 2014.

A “community needs” survey is being released this week to identify a wide range of issues and necessities across the city, according to City Manager Susan Nicosia. The assessment will help city officials recognize the priorities for a new year, and also allow Columbia Falls to apply for the Community Development Block Grant Program, which provides resources to address unique infrastructure and other needs.

For example, the city of Columbia Falls is following Kalispell’s lead and identifying sidewalks as an important need that is lacking. Nicosia said efforts have been focused on improving safe walkways near schools, but the city wants feedback to know if additional areas in the city should upgrade its sidewalks.

“The intent (of the community needs survey) is that you don’t want to have a preconceived idea of what your community needs,” Nicosia said. “I personally think we need sidewalks, but is that what the community sees as the greater need?”

The survey will address residential and commercial blight and whether sections of town need to do something about abandoned homes or buildings.

Public comment will be open until late February. The survey will be posted on the city’s website — www.cityofcolumbiafalls.org — and paper copies will be available at City Hall, 130 Sixth St. W.

A separate survey is being conducted to gauge interest in a public dog park similar to Whitefish’s site. Nicosia said the city wants to know if enough residents have the desire to have one, and if so, where should the potential site be located and how should the city clean up the site.

“It will be interesting to find out if that’s something people want,” she said.

On Jan. 27, the city council will hold a workshop reviewing its downtown zoning regulations as a way to air out any concerns folks may have related to economic growth in the heart of the city.

“Every once and awhile there’s an inquiry into why don’t we have more businesses,” Nicosia said, adding that the main question centers on whether regulations like the sign and lighting ordinances are too prohibitive.

Nicosia said she doesn’t blame city regulations for any lack of economic interest in the downtown, and she hopes the upcoming public discussion will help explain why provisions are in place, and maybe spark new ideas for how the city can attract business.

“It’s best to hold a workshop and ask questions,” she said.

The city has seen a slow trickle of economic growth in the wake of the recession and remains “stable,” according to Nicosia.

Commercial development did not see any significant changes last year, but recently two new automotive businesses applied for permits in the city, and Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the new concessioner in Glacier National Park, began moving into a prominent location off U.S. 2 that has sat vacant for years.

Residential building permits saw a slight increase this past year, with six new single-family homes built and one six-unit multifamily site developed.

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