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Missoula County, city team up on growth, transportation plans west of Reserve

Missoula Growth
Posted at 5:02 PM, Jan 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-14 19:02:40-05

MISSOULA — While planners design the future of transportation in the Mullan area, the city and Missoula County will begin crafting a parallel vision to guide growth and development over the coming decades.

Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday approved a contract with Dover, Kohl and Partners to draft a land-use master plan for the region west of Reserve Street, which is expected to absorb its share of Missoula’s growth over the coming years.

“It’ll address some planning, some zoning, traffic and mobility, and stormwater in the area,” said Andrew Hagemeier with Community and Planning Services. “We’re talking residential, commercial and industrial, and where that should go.”

The area was largely open and undeveloped in the mid-1990s when commercial development found its way to North Reserve and its intersection with Mullan Road. Since then, the region has seen significant growth.

The North Reserve Street corridor and areas to the west now house thousands of residents and is home to some of the city’s largest chain stores, from Costco to Home Depot. With large swaths of undeveloped land remaining to the west, additional growth is inevitable given the region’s existing services.

The master plan will shape that future development.

“We’ll also be looking at the zoning,” said Hagemeier. “We’ll be talking conceptually about what we want to see, but then we’ll put the rules in place to execute it. We’re not just doing a plan and walking away. We’re doing a plan and making it a reality.”

Missoula County, in partnership with the city, applied for and received a $13 million federal BUILD grant to make road improvements to the area. Conceptual plans include connecting George Elmer Drive and Mary Jane Boulevard from Mullan to West Broadway.

The transportation grant and land-use master plan will progress simultaneously, with each informing the other.

“There might be some adjustments made, but those main arterials – that main (transportation) plan – stay in place,” said senior city planner Tom Zavits. “They may make adjustments depending on what our land uses turn out to be. Our land uses are dependent on transportation as well. It’s great we’re able to do this at the same time.”

The federal transportation grant will help fund nearly three miles of new roads and open access to nearly 1,500 acres of developable land west of Reserve. It could also lead to the placement of thousands of new homes and an estimated 7,000 jobs.

“We’re going to let the transportation and planning process tell us what that number will be,” said Zavits. “It could be much less than that or it could be greater. When we get all those restrictive factors together, we’ll talk about the numbers.”

The transportation improvements will be planned alongside the land-use master plan.Whatever those numbers turn out to be, the area remains one of the few regions in the Missoula Valley that can accommodate development and meet the city’s housing needs as the population grows.

Services required by future residents will also be considered in the planning process. The consultants, Dover, Kohl and Partners, recently crafted Missoula’s Downtown Master Plan and are familiar with the city’s demographics and economy.

“We’re hoping to be able to do some new kinds of zoning to allow us to mix land uses, so you might have a neighborhood grocery or a coffee shop in a residential area, whereas right now, that’s kind of tough to do with not only our city zoning, but with the county zoning as well,” Zavits said.

How well Missoula achieves its goals for infill development near the city core could also effect growth elsewhere in town. That hasn’t been easy over the past year, as some residents have resisted nearly every proposed housing project, be it downtown or in Midtown.

“We want all our growth to be creating community centers, and this (Mullan area) will wind up being a community center as well,” Zavits said. “This will take a lot of our new growth, while we’ll be looking to do development on the inside of the city as well as in the city core.”

Commissioners on Tuesday approved $50,000 in funding to contract Dover, Kohl and Partners to complete the master plan west of Reserve. The city also contributed $100,000, including $25,000 from Public Works and $25,000 from the Missoula Metropolitan Planning Organization.

A draft is expected in mid July and adoption could begin in September. The consultants will be in Missoula from March 24-27 to conduct a series of public meetings to solicit input.

“This is a big piece of business here today,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “This is it – setting a vision and the master plan in place for what this piece of Missoula County will look like for the decades to come.”