MISSOULA — With an agreement notched for an attainable housing project planned off Scott Street, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency on Thursday approved $226,000 to fund the planning effort needed to put the development in motion.
The city purchased the 19-acre parcel in 2020 and approved an agreement with Ravara Development LLC in 2021 to develop the project.
The sales agreement with Ravara is contingent upon the planning process, material costs and the continued participation of the project’s primary investor, Goodworks Ventures.
“Once we’ve gotten the massing blocks put together and we understand what kind of form and function we’ll be doing, we’ll be drilling down into our spreadsheets even further to make sure the return profile is acceptable to the investor, and we’re able to move ahead in this environment with the cost of inputs being astronomical right now,” said Dawn McGee of Goodworks Ventures.
As proposed, roughly half of the 19-acre property will be developed into a mix of housing types, ranging from brownstones to courtyard apartments. The other half will be used to consolidate a number of city services, thus freeing up other city properties for future redevelopment.
Thursday’s approval contracts Cushing Terrell of Missoula to begin the design.
“Housing has created a critical issue in our community, both in Missoula and elsewhere,” said McGee. “People’s ability to continue to hire good people is affected by their inability to find housing. We’ve been working with the city over the past seven months to put together a project is probably one of the most unforgiving times to be starting, but we’re hopeful about being able to provide some housing.”
Around 6 acres of land within the development are reserved for workforce housing and will include a variety of affordable homes in a number of forms. Plans could see as many as 200 units developed in this phase, along with enough retail to serve the larger neighborhood.
The agreement also calls for a daycare facility.
“So far, the thing we’ve built in for sure is a daycare and other things have been mentioned,” said McGee, naming a small grocery store, food services and coffee. “The Northside really has no services at all. We want to keep people in the neighborhood so they’re not leaving and coming back in.”
Another 3 acres will be donated to a Community Land Trust and developed into around 70 units of permanently affordable housing. The model has been implemented in other parts of Missoula and allows households to own their own unit while the land trust retains the land.
The result lowers the cost to the unit’s owner, making the homes more attainable.
“After we’ve completed the design process, we’ll look at the cost inputs to deliver on the community lands trust portion of it,” said Kiah Hockstetler with Goodworks. “We’re looking at between $250,000 and $340,000 for the range those houses will be sold for.”
Once the land sale closes, the city will reinvest the funding into its Housing Trust Fund. The project could also influence other development on city-owned land, including a parcel that sits north of the Scott Street property.
The city also plans to develop property off Johnson Street and along West Broadway.
“We really are trying to facilitate a different type of development pattern than we’ve seen in Missoula, and the last thing we want to do is come up with a plan that’s not buildable anywhere because it’s not realistic,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “The goal is to come out with a model that could be used for West Broadway or Johnson Street. This needs to be looked at as being bigger than the Scott Street project.”
Rob Brewster of Ravara said that under normal circumstances, a developer would approach the site based on acreage and financing. But the Scott Street project involves a number of other uncommon factors, including neighborhood input, the city’s ownership of the land, soaring material costs and other aspects.
He said the city has been a good partner thus far, including its help in addressing parking and traffic. The project is just one of many slated for the Scott Street area, and future transportation issues will be taken into consideration during design.
“The city has really been pretty energetic and flexible to make the project have less of an impact on the neighborhood,” Brewster said. “We can come up with some pretty innovative ideas. The hope is that this inspires other development in the neighborhood and other parts of Missoula.”
Brewster said the final number of units and types will be based upon the design, along with material and labor costs when construction is ready to begin. For now, he said, the goal is to include around 240 apartment units intended for market rate.
He placed the project’s buildout at around 18 months, though it will take several months to complete the design work.
“If we effectively have more market-rate apartments, we’d have more affordable housing,” he said. “We’ll have some that go to a different income level. Market rate isn’t just one rate, it’s a spectrum of rates. We want to accomplish that as part of the goal.”