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Billings Co. planning and zoning axes proposed housing facility

Press File Photo Citizens of Fryburg don’t want to see the old Fryburg Elementary School, which closed in 2000 and is shown on July 15, become an extended-stay hotel. They showed that by signing a petition that led the Billings County planning zoning board to deny a building application on Thursday.

MEDORA -- The population of tiny Fryburg would've exploded with a housing development proposal that was axed Thursday.

Developers proposed putting a $12.8 million, 318-room extended-stay hotel at the site of the old Fryburg schoolhouse on Main Street. The Billings County zoning board denied the building application at its meeting.

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Developers can still go to the full Billings County Commission on Sept. 2 with their plan, and commissioners could override the zoning board's ruling. One of the three commissioners, Joe Kessel, is also on the zoning board, which unanimously denied the application.

"I think they thought it was too big for that area, from listening to what everybody thought," said Connie Kasian, vice president of the zoning board. "And the people in Fryburg were very much against it."

Zoning board member Karen Putnam said residents turned in a petition against the project with 19 signatures -- which she said included every resident of Fryburg except one person that wasn't available.

"It's pretty much a man camp, they did say of course that the public was allowed to stay there, which I don't foresee, and they would rent out mostly to the big oil companies," Putnam said. "... You can't bring that many men into town and nothing for them to do."

Fryburg resident Robert Lillibridge pointed out there isn't much in Fryburg besides its seven or so families -- no post office, no store, no recreation.

And that's the way he likes it.

"Well it's ridiculous," he said. "Here we have a little town of a dozen people or so and it's off the highway, it's kind of out-of-the-way, we have no store, we have no post office, we have no anything here. There's no business here except for an Oil Patch welding shop, and can you imagine putting up a 300-and-some-unit hotel in a place like that?"

Margie Lindbo, who has lived with her husband in Fryburg since 1967, said it takes Billings County Sheriff's deputies a half-hour to get to Fryburg if there was ever a problem, and the town has no police force of its own.

She and others also said there's enough housing in surrounding areas.

Plus, Lindbo said, who would staff it?

"We're only a town of 20 people. There'd be nobody available to work up there if we were even asked because everybody that wants a job has a job already," she said.

Morgan Lodge developer Richard Brown didn't return a call seeking comment and business partner Joe Marques wouldn't comment.

According to Morgan Chase Management's building application with the county, they're proposing an extended-stay hotel for the old schoolhouse site at 3749 Main Street. The school closed in 2000 because of lack of students.

"Morgan Lodge encompasses amenities needed by the workers and employees" in the county and surrounding communities, Brown and Marques wrote in the application.

The development would include a restaurant, a gym, meeting rooms, a basketball court and other amenities that altogether meet "the long-term working residents' needs."

"It's a business, it's to gain, it's nothing to bring into the community because there's nothing that they would've brought into the Billings County community other than some taxes on lodging," Putnam said.

Lillibridge has lived in Fryburg about six years with his wife. Before, they lived on a ranch in rural Billings County. He said Fryburg, as it is now, isn't too different.

"This is kind of a sleepy little town and we like it, we like it the way it is," he said, "and I don't know anybody, there's nobody in town that wants that (development) ... it just doesn't make sense to me."