MISSOULA — With Missoula well into another growth spurt, leaders are combining their efforts to plan how that expansion will take place. But as evidenced by the first meeting of the Urban Growth Commission this week, that's a big, and complicated assignment.
When US Senator Steve Daines joined with local government and business leaders in August to announce the introduction of an effort to secure a new BUILD grant, there was a lot of optimism about the growth slated to occur between the western outskirts of Missoula and the airport.
But the reality of the inherent challenges of that growth is emerging, whether it's the city's massive annexation or elsewhere surrounding the Garden City.
"With the BUILD grant area out by the airport, or just in terms of the growth that's happening around Missoula, we need to coordinate and collaborate. And this is an opportunity for both elected officials and staff to get together and talk about those issues," Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier explained.
That includes a strained transportation system, providing services to a widening area, how to pay for it all -- and most of all, how to protect Missoula's character.
The new Urban Growth Commission is finding complications are apparent. How do you plan for a 50% increase in auto trips? What about affordable housing, or the best way to tackle cross-jurisdictional questions years after the city and county planning departments split?
Strohmaier says we have to try to find answers.
"Too often we run the risk if we don't plan in advance we're having to play a lot of catch up. But this is an opportunity to talk about where growth ought to occur if it occurs and make sure that it happens in a way that kind of meshes with Missoula and Missoula County's values," he told MTN News.
"We're starting the process of doing some master planning out there, with or without federal funds. It's important to take a hard look at what we want this community to look like in the 21st Century," Strohmaier added.
If authorized, that BUILD grant would funnel $23 million into providing future improvements, but that would only be for the area lying west of Reserve between Mullan Road and West Broadway. The goal is to hire a consultant to work on the Master Plan for that area before the end of the year.