-Martin Kidston reporting for the Missoula Current
MISSOULA – An affordable senior housing project proposed for a Missoula neighborhood prompted several members of the Missoula Council on Wednesday to both praise the development and say it was planned for the wrong location.
Housing Solutions LLC, headed by Alex Burkhalter, has revived the Skyview senior housing project for the second year, this time looking to the 2400 block of Ninth Street in the Franklin to the Fort neighborhood.
The same project was proposed for the Westside neighborhood last year, though it was canceled when the Montana Board of Housing passed it over for housing tax credits.
“Unfortunately, that project was not successful,” Burkhalter said. “Everyone thought that one would go through. With Missoula having such an incredible need, we really wanted to try again.”
The need for affordable senior housing is widely mentioned in the city’s new housing policy, and the Skyview project would help meet that need.
As now proposed, it would include 39 units for those ages 55 and older who make less than $29,500 a year. Rent would start at roughly $525 a month for a one-bedroom unit and $630 for two bedrooms with utilities paid.
“Yes, I think this meets a community need. Yes, we have a big need for senior housing in this community,” said council member Gwen Jones, a board member at Missoula Aging Services. “Our senior population is growing and there are many financial issues with many of them.”
While no one disputed the project’s ability to fill a “community need,” several did question its proposed location, including Ward 6 council member Michelle Cares.
Cares, who represents the neighborhood in which the project is planned, said the district is facing rapid changes from high-density development. In fact, residents expressed concerns over parking and traffic related to a smaller subdivision once proposed for the same lot.
The new project would only exacerbate those concerns, she said.
“I’m incredibly torn,” said Cares. “This is a community need and it’s in line with the Our Missoula growth policy. This area is designated at a very high density.
“But also, this stuff happens to the Franklin to the Fort neighbors every single week. It’s not incremental. It’s a huge change. I know neighbors feel the writing is on the wall already, and this is just another step toward an eventuality.”
Burkhalter said the Skyview project proposed for the Westside neighborhood last year was denied funding in November. Housing Solutions began searching for a new site the following month and found the vacant lot on Ninth Street, which at 1.2 acres is large enough to accommodate the project.
“We spent December through the end of March trying to find an alternative site,” said Burkhalter. “Everywhere from Butler Creek to East Missoula and even in Bonner. Land is so hard to come by.”
While that may be true, council member John DiBari shared Cares’ concern over the project’s location, one that still largely serves as a single-family neighborhood. He too voted against a public hearing on the issue.
“Definitely the right idea, and maybe not the right spot,” he said. “A project like this is going to require a new process. You have four lots that would require rezoning and removal of the subdivision lines. There’s a whole lot more process that needs to happen to make the idea a reality, at which time there could be a vigorous conversation around the right idea and the wrong place.”
A public hearing to gauge community support for the affordable senior housing project is planned for next month. It passed on a 5-2 vote.