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Polson gives initial nod to casino project, approves youth curfew

by SCOT HEISEL
Lake County Leader | May 5, 2022 12:30 AM

Plans for a new casino near the Polson Airport took a small step forward Monday night when the Polson City Commission approved a resolution of intent to annex Tribal land at the site, a move that would extend the city’s water services to the property.

In February the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes requested the city annex a 79-acre parcel of Tribal land along the west side of Highway 93 just north of the airport and the Polson/Flathead Lake KOA motorcoach resort. Irvine Flats Road is the primary access point to the property.

Bryon Miller, director of gaming services for S&K Gaming, a CSKT corporation, and CSKT Planning Director Janet Camel presented the proposal to the Commission during Monday’s meeting.

Businesses under the management of S&K Gaming include S&K Polson Bay Marina, Big Arm Marina, Gray Wolf Peak Casino near Evaro and KwaTaqNuk Resort and Casino along the southern shore of Flathead Lake in Polson.

The Tribes intend to move all gaming from KwaTaqNuk to a 25,000-square-foot facility at the new site. Miller said there are 270 gaming machines operating at KwaTaqNuk, and approximately 30 machines would be added. KwaTaqNuk would continue to be operated as a resort.

The casino proposal has multiple phases, with the first phase including the casino, a visitor center, 300 public parking spaces and some employee parking on about 10 acres of the property. Miller said a restaurant is part of the plan for the initial casino facility.

Subsequent phases might include additional commercial spaces for complementary businesses such as salons and gift shops, as well as some RV lots.

“We have positioned the property and the development of it to add on a future event center that could house up to 500 people, and possible hotel development, too, later on,” Miller said.

Camel said the Tribes’ most urgent goal is establishing water services so construction can begin. An agreement for sewer services also must be established, but that will come at a later date.

“Right now, the gaming establishment needs to get the construction on the ground. So our biggest priority is to get the entire property annexed, get an agreement for city water services, and then we’ll come back to you with future requests for sewer.”

Along with water and sewer services, annexation would require an agreement for other services, including law enforcement, fire protection and street maintenance.

Miller said the plan is to break ground by the end of the year and to have the casino operating by the fall of 2023.

The Tribes have already completed an environmental impact assessment for the proposal, and Camel said that assessment will be available to commissioners.

Since the city of Polson cannot legally tax Tribal businesses, Miller said the Tribes will seek an agreement for payment in lieu of taxes. A similar 30-year agreement is in place for KwaTaqNuk.

Camel noted that the area is already zoned for commercial industrial use.

The resolution of intent to annex the property passed unanimously Monday, with all members of the Commission present except Jan Howlett of Ward 1. Monday’s vote does not approve the annexation, but merely signals the city’s intent to do so. The city must allow for a 20-day public comment period before finalizing the annexation. A public hearing on the annexation request has been set for Monday, June 6.

In other business Monday, the Commission unanimously approved a new youth curfew law on a second reading, meaning the ordinance is now in effect. A similar ordinance was eliminated by accident during a routine recodification process in 2017, and the Polson Police Department requested an amendment to help them better manage potential illegal activity by minors late at night.

The ordinance prohibits minors under the age of 18 from loitering upon or frequenting the streets, alleys or city property within city limits from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, or midnight to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday. It also sets a penalty for an infraction at a $75 fine and/or up to 10 hours of community service.

Police Capt. George Simpson reiterated Monday night that the ordinance is needed as a tool for law enforcement to deal with illegal activity. He said minors on city streets or property for legitimate reasons, such as going to a job, would not be cited as long as they have permission from a parent or guardian.

Commissioners also denied a variance request to the city’s development code for a multi-family residential project at 502 10th Ave. Developers were seeking to build 100% of the parking for the project at the front of the property. City staff recommended a denial of the request, stating that compliance does not present a hardship, which is a condition of granting such a variance.

The Commission also voted unanimously to approve a Polson Redevelopment Agency grant request of $12,000 from the city’s Tax Increment Financing fund to the owners of Baypointe Condominium Association for rehabilitation improvements to the residential complex on Kootenai Avenue facing Salish Point Park. The cost of the project is estimated at $30,200.