City Council OKs sale of Arthur Avenue land, despite concerns about value, process

1536 Arthur Avenue

Missoula City Council members unanimously agreed Monday to sell a 4,878-square-foot parcel at 1536 Arthur Ave. for $150,000, despite questions about the sale’s transparency and the property’s potential for affordable housing.

The sale – which Mayor John Engen said was necessary after an initial sale fell through — effectively authorizes disposal of the property. The proceeds will go to Missoula Water. 

The initial buyer was unable to obtain financing, according to city documents. The council had previously approved the property’s sale in July. This time, the property will go to Torin Etter and Kadin Bardsley, who have funds ready for the purchase.

 “As some of you will recall, we had a couple of surplus parcels associated with our purchase of Missoula Water,” Engen said. “You previously took an action to sell both of those parcels. Meantime, financing for this parcel on Arthur Street fell through.

“That sale was not complete and we went back out to market the property. Actually, we never actually took it off the market, but we had a question about the zoning there and the ability to build a residence. That was clarified. 

“We had two full-price cash offers. And we accepted the first one that came in the door, with the second one being a back-up offer. Providing you all approve this this evening, we will continue to consummate that transaction.” 

Ward 3 council member Heather Harp asked for clarification. 

“Was this Missoula Water property that we had to sell?” said Harp. 

“Correct,” Engen said. “We have a number of surplus parcels, but these are the only two that we considered immediately. One was at Maurice and Beckwith … we sold that property. This is the other remaining property as part of that.” 

“As I recall from that discussion last time,” said Harp, “because this is in one of our enterprise funds, this is not necessarily city land; it falls into a slightly different pot of money. This is not something we can just decide to put affordable housing on. This is something that we are required to sell at the highest price that we can attain.”

Engen said the city, in this case, is not in the “one-off housing development business.” 

 “The proceeds from this sale will go back to the water utility,” he added.

Councilman Jesse Ramos of Ward 4 questioned the procedure for considering offers.

“Is there a way in the future that we can negotiate if the other guy wants to pay money for it and we can get more proceeds, maybe more bang for the buck, so to speak?” he asked.

Engen said $150,000 is a fair price for the land, but that Ramos’ suggestion is an option for the future.

“We can do that, based on the market analysis and frankly our desire not to inflate land prices if we can help it,” said Engen. 

Ramos also suggested a few more requirements for future sales — “to make sure the development is more affordable and not a big mansion if we’re getting a deal on it.”

Michelle Cares, Ward 6 council member, asked for transparency on the issue, as Engen brought up the surplus property resolution as new business.

“Why are we discussing this? I don’t believe we saw it in committee last week,” said Cares. “I’m just trying to provide transparency.”

Engen offered expediency as the main reason for taking a vote on the resolution. 

“These folks would like to move on these properties if they can,” Engen added. “So getting it done is in the best interest of the buyers — and frankly, us.”

Heidi West of Ward 1 asked if both offers came from local builders.

“One was from a builder and one was from a private (party) – someone who intended to buy it and have someone build on it for them,” Engen said, without giving specifics and before adjourning. 

Contract Reporter Renata Birkenbuel at 406-565-0013 and renatab@missoulacurrent.com.