City preparing plans to annex Missoula airport, development park ahead of growth

Missoula’s westward growth has prompted city officials to begin planning for the annexation of the Missoula Development Park and Missoula International Airport, along with other properties along the West Broadway corridor. (Missoula Current file photo)

The city of Missoula is preparing to annex the Missoula Development Park and Missoula International Airport, a move that would extend the city’s boundaries west and set the stage for proactive planning as the urban area expands.

Though city officials described the process as in its “very early days,” it’s expected to move forward this year as they identify ways to overlay city zoning with what’s currently in place in the county.

“We’re really right now looking at the logistics of how and when we might do that,” said Mike Haynes, director of the city’s Development Services. “We can do the annexation process, but we’re looking at things like zoning, what the county zoning is and what the appropriate city zoning would be.”

Both areas are currently zoned by the county and each have unique governing boards, including the Missoula County Airport Authority and a design review committee that oversees the development park, among others.

The development park, which covers roughly 446 acres, includes a range of hotels and car dealerships, along with light manufacturing and commercial properties. It also includes a tax increment financing district, which sunsets this year.

“We’ve talked to folks at the airport and they’re open to the idea of annexation,” said Haynes. “With regard to the development park, we want to do some outreach to all the property owners out there. There’s mutual benefits of being in the city in terms of the services we provide.”

City Council member John DiBari, who chairs the Land Use and Planning Committee, said the annexation proposal isn’t new. But with the tax increment district ready to sunset, and given the city’s westward growth, the proposal is moving closer to reality.

“There’s nothing ready to go, and it will be a while before the details get worked out,” DiBari said. “But from a conceptual standpoint, that’s the idea – to bring that development park and the area around the airport and the airport itself into the city.”

Residential development has already begun to creep west, though DiBari said it costs the city more to provide services than it currently receives in tax revenues. But the development park is nearly full, less a few empty lots eyed for technology, and a number of companies, including Costco, have eyed property in the area for development.

Bringing those into the city could provide the tax revenues to plan for future growth and improve the area’s infrastructure as needed.

“This is a way for the city to better balance its mix of industrial, commercial and residential land-use types and try to help balance the tax revenues we’re getting from each of those different land-use types,” DiBari said. “If you look at a map, the city is slowly marching to the west, and this a way to help us look at a large area of land, bring that under city regulations, and have more predictably in how that develops.”

Both the airport and development park already receive some city services, including sewer. They also sit on the city’s urban fringe and abut the West Broadway corridor, which includes a large swath of open land that’s being eyed for development.

The boundaries proposed for annexation haven’t been set and the city plans to work closely with area property owners, Haynes said.

“We can do the annexation because many of the properties in the area we’re looking at have sewer service and have signed petitions to annex,” Haynes said. “Our planners are working on an annexation policy, and to some degree, it would help guide that work.”

Cris Jensen, director of Missoula International Airport, said the airport signed a document in 1988 that consented to annexation when it hooked up to the city’s sewer service. Since then, it has known than annexation was inevitable as Missoula grows.

He said the airport remains open to the idea and sees some benefits in the process as it looks to embark on a new passenger terminal and other projects.

“It doesn’t really change anything for us other than maybe through our construction activities,” he said. “There will be less confusion because we have a county building inspector trying, in some cases with sewer and water, to apply city requirements. It probably cleans some of that up for us.”