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Missoula council approves 20-lot Rattlesnake subdivision

Missoula City Council Chambers
Posted at 2:37 PM, Apr 12, 2022

MISSOULA - The Missoula City Council on Monday approved a 20-lot subdivision in the Rattlesnake neighborhood after several weeks of discussion over infrastructure and the type of housing the project will provide.

While the single-family homes aren’t the most ideal use of the property, several argued, they will provide needed housing nonetheless, and it was approved on a 9-2 vote.

“We need inventory at every level of our housing market,” said council member Mike Nugent. “We have a churn problem in Missoula in addition to just entry-level housing. You’re seeing that in the prices in some neighborhoods.”

But for two council members, single-family homes have fallen out of favor, and one’s investment in private property and the development rights that come with it have become a questionable option if it doesn’t meet the narrow definition of affordable housing.

The City Council in the past has denied at least one project based on its proposed density, saying it would be too many homes given the surrounding infrastructure. Other projects that proposed an increase in density fell under intense council scrutiny.

This time, however, some lamented the Greenough project for its lack of density. Add it up and it sends a confusing message to the development community, some suggested.

Others disagreed.

“We need to be asking for maximum density, especially when it’s this close to town,” said council member Kristen Jordan. “It’s not addressing our affordable housing issues and it’s not addressing density. We need to rezone and start planning ahead and address these projects from a progressive stance rather than voting yes based upon existing code.”

Councilmember Daniel Carlino offered similar sentiments and was the only other member to vote against the Greenough subdivision.

At last week’s council meeting, Carlino suggested that “Looking at the historical context of only allowing zoning in residential neighborhoods for only single-family residences with large lots, there’s a lot of historical context of that pushing people out of neighborhoods and trying to ensure only wealthy people or white people can live in certain neighborhoods.”

On Monday, Carlino rephrased his opposition to the project.

“Restricting the zoning of any residential neighborhood to allow for only single-family homes is a regressive policy,” he said.

Greenough Heights LLC is proposing the 20-unit project on roughly 6 acres of vacant ground in the Rattlesnake. After setback requirements, parkland dedication, streets, sidewalks and right-of-way requirements, the project comes to a density of 3.8 units per acre.

Current zoning allows for more than five units per acre. The property, other council members suggested, comes with constraints and while 20 homes are fewer than what some would like to see, it’s an acceptable project.

It’s also private property, they noted.

“Twenty lots of different sizes would have been a better representation of what our needs are as a society,” said council member Mirtha Becerra. “Having said that, this is private property. We don’t have any tools that can dictate how that land can be developed.”