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Missoula City Council approves high-density rezoning for expanded Wolf Glen Apartments

Monday night’s rezoning allows the expansion of Wolf Glen Apartments to include 17 additional units. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The Missoula City Council on Monday approved a higher-density rezoning to allow the addition of 17 units to the Wolf Glen Apartments at Wyoming and North Catlin streets.

Three council members voted against the decision: Jon Wilkins, Michelle Cares and Heidi West. Council members Ruth Ann Swaney and Bryan von Lossberg were absent.

Ward 6 Councilwoman Marilyn Marler, who represents the neighborhood, supported the rezoning. She said Missoula’s housing crisis demands diverse housing options, but acknowledged that infrastructure improvements are needed in the area.

“I feel strongly that we can support infill in Missoula while also stepping up our improvements to infrastructure,” Marler said.

In recent weeks, a number of neighborhood residents have voiced concerns about adding apartments to an already densely populated area, citing missing sidewalks, narrow streets, parking problems and dwindling green space.

That’s why Cares, also of Ward 6, voted against the change. She said the lack of public transportation, infrastructure and other services speaks against increasing the area’s population.

Most council members agreed that the neighborhood already needs basic improvements in infrastructure, such as sidewalks, street width and lighting.

But Ward 3 Councilwoman Gwen Jones said the apartment development provides an opportunity to put Missoula’s growth policy into action.

The policy adopted in November 2015 focuses on inward growth within the city. In part, Jones said, that means rezoning compatible areas for higher-density development.

The Wolf Glen Apartments are located near Russell Street and a number of other affordable housing projects, as well as the new Missoula Food Bank.

“When we’re analyzing this kind of rezoning, we approved this structure already,” Jones said. “Now we’re having real application. We need to effectuate the policy.”

The RM2 Residential (multi-dwelling) zoning district approved Monday night allows a maximum density of 21 dwelling units per acre. It’s a new zoning category for the city, approved last November. Wolf Glen will be the first to use the classification.

The parcel’s previous Residential Medium zoning allowed 12 to 23 dwelling units per acre.

The neighborhood already falls under the target population density in the growth policy, said Ward 1 Councilwoman West. She voted against the ordinance because she fears the housing might not be as affordable for working populations as advertised.

Several community members spoke at Monday’s meeting, both for and against the ordinance.

Neighborhood resident Paul Chamberlin said with other recent developments, he lost the view of the mountains he had for 35 years. He urged the council to take infrastructure and community voices into account with their vote.

“I’m asking you to vote in favor of livability, character and diversity and not short-sighted density goals leading to this loss of community,” Chamberlin said.

He echoed other sentiments expressed by his neighbors, who worried about parking, traffic and quality of life in the area.

Mayor John Engen voiced his support after the council’s vote. He said he’s seen a number of rezoning projects and thinks this one will provide significant opportunities in an area designated for high-density development.

Missoula’s growth policy estimates that within the next 20 years, the urban area’s population will increase by 18,500 people, requiring 9,000 new housing units.