MISSOULA — The Missoula City Council agreed Monday to rezone 57 acres of one-time farmland for a subdivision at the intersection of Flynn Lane and Mullan Road.
The approval came on an 8-1 vote, with Ward 2 Councilwoman Mirtha Becerra voting “no” on the rezoning and Julie Merritt of Ward 6 abstaining because she works for the developer’s representative.
In a separate action, the council unanimously voted to approve the development agreement in conjunction with an amendment to the city’s growth policy, revising the property’s land use designation from “medium” to “neighborhood mixed.”
Called Hellgate Meadows West, the development would add an estimated 620 dwelling units to the sprawling Pleasant View and Hellgate Meadows neighborhoods west of Reserve Street, although Mayor John Engen said the contract with the builder stipulates it is not required to build that many units.
The property was planned and zoned as part of the Hellgate Meadows subdivision in 2002. But in the years since, needs and conditions have changed, according to Nick Kaufman, a planner with WGM Group representing the developers.
“We want to bring the design contemporary with the needs of Missoula, and we need a growth policy amendment to do that, and a zoning change,” Kaufman said during a meeting earlier this fall. “This residential area continues to be a vital part of meeting the housing needs of this community.”
No neighbors of the new subdivision spoke against the development Monday night, despite their repeated objections in recent months. Only Becerra spoke against the proposal before the final votes.
Becerra said she wanted deeper research and discussion on the issue before going forward. She voted against the rezoning, then voted to approve the growth policy amendment and associated development agreement.
Ward 2 Councilman Jordan Hess praised “plans for an orderly and predictable development” of the project in coordination with a transportation planning grant recently secured by the city and county.
“It takes everyone working together and finding common ground,” he said. “I’m happy to support the motions.”
Jesse Ramos, Ward 4 council member, echoed Hess.
“I think it’s an overall success and I think WGM Group has done a good job working with the neighborhood,” Ramos said. “It’s been thoughtful … and the city has respected the neighbors. I’m excited for this development.”
Heidi West of Ward 1 said Hellgate Meadows already passes one test of a strong neighborhood.
“It’s friendly to our trick-or-treaters and that hits the mark,” said West. “I’d like to see more of that in Missoula.”
Changing the zoning to neighborhood mixed-use aligns the city’s growth policy with “emerging public needs,” said Kaufman, representing the developers, including Dave Edgell and Wade Hoyt.
“In this case, the one emerging public need is for more housing, which was identified in the city housing policy,” said city planner Jenny Baker. “This amendment supports that need by permitting more density and a greater diversity of permitted housing types.”
However, on Monday, Ramos emphasized that affordable housing in general continues to be a problem – and that supply and demand must be balanced before the situation will improve.