Missoula is back in the subdivision business after Monday night’s unanimous approval of the 32-lot Cowboy Flats development by City Council members.
The vote represented the city’s first major subdivision approval since 2008.
But the go-ahead didn’t come without a bit of debate over density, infrastructure timing and the subdivision’s use of “short courts.”
Developer Gene Mostad’s Dore Lane LLC only needed the council’s approval of one variance – that being to the city regulation prohibiting short courts, which are closed at one end to allow more dense development.
The 4.9-acre lot is now vacant, save one home, and lies between Dore Lane and Paxson Street.
Cowboy Flats will consist entirely of single-family homes, built on one level with buyers age 55 and older in mind, said Dale McCormick of PCI Consultants, who represented the developer at Monday’s public hearing.
The six short courts branch off 38th Street and allow access to the subdivision’s outlying lots.
Ward 4 Councilman John DiBari said he’s “not a huge fan of short courts,” but recognizes their need if Cowboy Flats is to meet the development’s desired density and the City Council’s “wider goals of infill.”
“It’s difficult to imagine how the developer could do this without the variance,” he said.
Councilwoman Gwen Jones, who represents Ward 3, said the nearest neighbors do feel the development is too dense.
But she supports the density, she said, and believes “this is a really well-designed project, a good use for the short courts and an efficient use of the available land.”
The only council pushback to the density, in fact, came from Ward 6 Councilwoman Marilyn Marler, who said she’d prefer twice the number of homes on the acreage “to make them more affordable.”
“If I had my druthers, it would be a different project with greater density,” she said. “Affordable housing is always on my mind.”
DiBari did ask whether the entire extension of 38th Street could be completed during Phase I of the subdivision, rather than in pieces as the development is fully built out. He made a motion to that effect to allow council discussion.
Mayor John Engen invited developer Mostad to explain the thinking behind building out 38th Street as Cowboy Flats completes Phase I and then Phase 2 of construction – rather than upfront.
“The reason is an economic one,” Mostad said. “You want the flexibility to build as the development proceeds so you don’t get yourself in a predicament and go broke.”
The timing for completion of 38th Street will depend on the housing market and how quickly the new homes sell, he continued.
“So I really wouldn’t like to see you guys take away that flexibility,” Mostad said. “The longest I can see it taking to put in (all of 38th Street) is one year.”
Ward 5 Councilwoman Annelise Hedahl came to Mostad’s defense, saying she has worked with him as a real estate agent and knows he “does a good job” and “is a man of his word.”
“I think it will be done and nicely,” she said.
Engen, who doesn’t have a vote except in cases of a tie, also supported the developer.
“If you are going to start requiring all infrastructure to be put in as part of Phase I, you should put that in the ordinance so everyone knows that from the start,” he said. “So it’s equitable for every development.”
DiBari’s motion to require 38th Street’s full extension during Phase 1 failed, with 3 yes votes and 7 nays. DiBari, Heidi West and Emily Bentley voted in favor of the amendment.
In the end, the vote on the full subdivision received the full council’s approval.