Neighbors voice fears for traffic, safety near Mullan Road subdivision

The 57.5 acres proposed for rezoning and development is north of Mullan Road and east of Flynn Lane, west of Reserve Street. (David Stalling/Missoula Current)

Homeowners who live near a proposed subdivision at Flynn Lane and Mullan Road told a developer this week that their anxiety is high: about the gridlock on North Reserve Street, about increasing traffic volumes (and speeds) on Flynn Lane and about the advisability of packing so many homes on 57.5 acres that were once farmland.

Organized by the Hellgate Meadows Association at the request of Kevin Davis, president of Big Sky Commerce, and Nick Kaufman, a planner at WGM Group, the meeting grew out of a City Council meeting that left nearby business owners, school officials and residents with “more questions than answers.”

During that council meeting, developers requested an amendment to the city’s Growth Policy, revising the property’s land use designation from “medium” to “neighborhood mixed,” and to rezone three parcels of land totaling 57.5 acres, north of Mullan Road and east of Flynn Lane. 

The rezoning would allow for a proposed subdivision, called Hellgate Meadows West, of greater housing density than now permitted, and for some community businesses.  

“Our main concerns regard traffic and safety,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of anxiety with the development we’ve already seen in the Reserve Street area, and the impact it’s had on traffic and safety. I’ve been here 20 years, raised my family in this area, have my business in this area, and I’ve seen the evolution and impacts.

“There’s been more questions raised than answered, so after hearing my concerns at the city council meeting, Nick Kaufman offered to meet with us again and hear our concerns and answer our questions.” 

Area residents, including Pat Koster, Rosemary Thurston and Gina Crowe, expressed similar concerns: Traffic is already gridlocked on Reserve Street, and often on Mullan Road. As a result, drivers often cut through existing neighborhoods, including Pleasant View and Hellgate Meadows, in an attempt to take shortcuts, at excessive speeds. 

With a lack of area parking, people often park along the roads, leaving little room for traffic to flow – which could impede the ability for emergency vehicles, such as police, ambulances and firetrucks, to get to the neighborhood quickly. 

“Our concerns are always traffic, and traffic configurations, to ensure our kids get to school and back safely,” said Douglas Reisig, superintendent of Hellgate Elementary School District.  “The school district is not an anti-development organization. We’re just trying to get more information and provide input to make sure we can get school buses in and turned around safely.” 

Hellgate Elementary is located on Flynn, right across the street from the proposed development. Growth in the area has brought increased traffic to Flynn, and a lot of people use the road to avoid the gridlock on Reserve, and travel between Mullan and West Broadway, often at high speeds, according to some local residents.

Nick Kaufman, a planner with the WGM Group, discusses the proposed rezoning and development during a meeting at Hellgate Elementary School Wednesday morning. (David Stalling/Missoula Current)

“The area is becoming mostly asphalt, buildings and traffic,” Davis said. “There’s gridlock on Reserve, gridlock on Mullan, and not enough outlets in-between. A lot is happening very quickly in terms of growth, and we have an obligation to be part of the discussion and help shape the growth.  It’s a great neighborhood. We have an obligation to get involved and help it stay that way. We’re not opposed to growth, but it has to be smart growth.”

Eight of the 57.5-acres slated for development, by a group of developers including Dave Edgell – who attended this week’s meeting, will include a mixture of housing at a density of about 10 units per acre, well below what’s authorized under current zoning. 

When asked about the cost of those houses, once completed, Edgell said, ““We’re trying to keep the prices as close to $300,000 as we can.  It’s a challenge. I understand affordable housing is a huge problem, but land is expensive. Building is expensive.” 

Amending the Growth Policy and rezoning the remaining acres, to allow for a higher density of houses, will help keep the prices down, Kaufman said, and help meet a community need and demand for more affordable housing.  

“We need to work together to ensure we get the kind of development we want, which I think is the kind of development you want,” he told the group. 

“The plan is not for the kind of development you see nearby. We all agree that low density is preferable,” Kaufman said. “What I’m hearing is that there’s a lot of uncertainties, and people want assurances. My goal is to take away uncertainties and add assurances by working together.”

Everyone at the meeting seemed to agree that having more roads connecting Mullan Road and West Broadway would help ease traffic congestion in the neighborhood. Currently, only Flynn and Deschamps serve as connections.

However, the city and county have applied for a $23 million federal grant that, if approved, would – among other things – extend George Elmer Drive and Mary Jane Boulevard, allowing drivers other options to get between Mullan and Broadway. 

The Missoula City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed rezoning on Monday, September 16, beginning at 7 p.m., at City Council Chambers, 140 Ws Pine St.