Missoula City Council keeps South Hills townhome development in committee

Members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday began picking through a litany of questions surrounding a proposed 68-unit townhome development in the South Hills.

Of the seven project items listed for discussion, the Land Use and Planning Committee got through one, and it kept the proposal in committee for at least another week, if not longer.

“We’ve got through one item in 53 minutes,” said council member John DiBari. “Clearly this is going to take a while. I’d hoped we’d get further down our list today.”

The single discussion item completed Wednesday related to the subdivision’s road design, including parking, maintenance and access for the fire department.

Differences over Title 12 requirements for road design and those in the city’s subdivision regulations also left many seeking clarification. The difference apparently lies in the project’s classification as a Townhome Exemption Development.

The development’s two streets are designed at 28 feet wide with parking on one side.

“There’s a bit of confusion between the subdivision regulations and what Title 12 says,” said Jason Rice of Territorial Landworks, who represents the developers. “These comply with Title 12 100 percent. There’s quite a bit of confusion in what the difference between subdivision and city-standard streets are, and these are city-standard streets.”

While the road design complies with city standards, several council members expressed concern over maintenance and whether the homeowners association would plow snow and regulate parking in the years ahead.

Similar concerns were raised by the Missoula Fire Department.

“If the restrictions on parking on one side and snow removal were enforced and provided by the homeowners association, it would help mitigate some of their (fire department) concerns,” said city planner Anita McNamara. “In saying they had those concerns was just another way of saying they want to make sure the association takes them seriously and follows up and enforces these items.”

That prompted several council members to ask the developers for a cost breakdown on maintenance items and whether the association’s fees would be enough to accommodate enforcement.

“The more reasonable request here is to ask the development team for an estimate regarding these things so we have a sense for what the homeowners would be expected to pay on a monthly or annual basis to address road maintenance and the common area,” DiBari said.

Rice said such information wouldn’t be known until the city approves the project, giving developers a better sense of permitted infrastructure and its maintenance costs.

But that didn’t sit well with council member Heidi West.

“How can you run a market analysis like this without knowing what the fees are?” she asked, suggesting developers get a general estimate from an insurance agent. “I don’t know why this would be put off to the end until filing the declaration. That seems pretty far down the road.”

Rice reiterated that the project remains in the early stages of planning.

“I think that’s not understood,” he replied.

Development Services has already recommended the project be approved. The Land Use and Planning Committee discussed the development in early December and set a public hearing for the City Council, which sent it back to committee for further discussion.

A month later, the project remains locked in committee, which completed one of seven discussion items listed on the agenda. Council member Stacy Anderson said the committee was doing its due diligence.

“We’re not nitpicking in terms of how much it’s going to cost to plow the roads,” she said. “Once this goes through all the processes and we give our approval and it gets built, and the homeowner association which has all the best intentions somehow goes defunct, we’re left to figure it out. We’re tasked with looking out for the greater good.”

The project is just one of many that’s been eyed for development on the urban property, located in the South Hills off Hillview Way. At least two earlier projects were approved by the City Council in the past, though neither one was built.