MISSOULA — The cost of building materials combined with zoning changes could require another two years to get an affordable housing project slated for Scott Street ready for construction.
The nine-acre project headed by Ravara LLC is taking shape, however, and the development team has unveiled a working draft of the neighborhood design. It includes a blend of condos and townhouses, market-rate apartments, a central square and a small retail center.
“The design is based around the principles we heard from the community,” said Bryan Topp, a project architect with Cushing Terrell. “The main takeaway is that we’re trying to maximize density while maintaining open space.”
The city purchased 19 acres off Scott Street in 2020 for around $6.3 million, and it approved an agreement with Ravara in 2021 to develop 9 acres into a mixed-use housing project with an element of affordability.
The city plans to extend Charlo and Palmer streets to the west and connect them with Shakespeare Street. Three acres reserved for a community land trust will sit north of Charlo while six acres planned for market-rate housing and retail will sit to the south.
“With the denser building footprints, we’re able to maintain some of that open space. It allows us to have permeability across the site,” said Topp. “In addition to that, we really wanted this development to feel open to the surrounding community.”
The land trust will include 42 townhomes and 36 condos while the architecture resembles past uses. The retail center planned off Scott Street is similar in design to the old White Pine Sash plant that used to occupy the site.
“The condos we’re trying to make as affordable and friendly as possible, meaning our studios and smaller units will be there, while townhouses will be more of a two, three and four bedroom kind of satiation,” said team member Dawn McGee. “We were charged by the city to build 70 units on three acres. It’s challenging to do that in a way that’s successful and still has a feeling of spaciousness.”
Developers behind the Scott Street project revealed their master plan this week, including condos and townhomes to the north, and retail, a central square and apartments with underground parking to the south. Scott Street runs along the right side of the image.
Balancing price targets set by the city under current market conditions and building cots has been challenging as well, and it could remain a factor moving forward, the team said.
The city has mandated that the units poised for the land trust be delivered at 120% of the area median income to keep them affordable to future buyers.
“The cost of construction has substantially gone through the roof, both in the cost of materials and subcontractors,” said team member Kiah Hochstetler. “To deliver these in the market we’re in, we’re pushing up against the cost limits of 120% AMI.”
Other factors could slow the project’s timeline, including the drawing and permitting process. Given the city’s parking requirements, the team is trying to place parking underground in some locations to preserve open space.
But that could become cost-prohibitive as design moves forward. Working through the details will take more time, said team member Rob Brewster.
“Getting through the drawing process, and getting through the permits is a substantial amount of time, probably about a year,” he said. “In part because we have a zoning change that the site needs because of parking requirements. The way we have zoning and codes, this would be an ocean of parking and we’d have very little green space. We’re trying to accommodate that with underground parking, but that may not be economically feasible.”
The city still must dedicate right-of-way along Palmer, Charlo and Shakespeare streets, which is likely the next step. Zoning changes would follow to accommodate plans for the development. Added up and it could take 24 months to work through the process and begin construction, the team suggested.
Despite cost elements, the developers are trying to take an energy-efficient approach in design.
“The city has asked us to take a look at all options to be as energy-efficient as possible,” said McGee. “We’d like to see the project obtain net-zero, but I don’t think we’ll obtain that given the build cost. We do want to set it up for success in the future so if people want to add on solar or better systems, that they can do so, and we’ll run the most energy-efficient buildings we can.”