Members of the Missoula City Council this week authorized the mayor to sign a development agreement guiding the blueprint for a 57-acre development off Flynn Lane.
Midway through Wednesday’s hearing, however, the city learned that an application for a federal infrastructure grant had been approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. That could sway how and when pieces of the Hellgate Meadows development play out in relation to certain roads.
While the agreement was approved, the city has not yet granted the developers’ request to rezone the property and amend the growth policy. Both are necessary before the project can move forward.
Amid all the moving parts, the City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee approved the development agreement with two dissenting votes and one abstention.
Ward 2 council member Mirtha Becerra voted against the agreement. She wanted more information about how the just-announced $13 million federal grant would impact plans to complete a larger transportation system between Mullan Road and West Broadway.
“My main concern is that we need to know how much money we’re counting on for infrastructure development before we can develop anything,” said Becerra. “We need to make sure that our agreement and decision is based on this new number. What are the priorities as they relate to this development?”
Hellgate Meadows would anchor the southern end of Mary Jane Boulevard, one of the collector streets included in the federal grant. The street would run from Mullan Road to West Broadway once completed.
The development agreement places the burden of completing the southern stretch of Mary Jane on the builders. Because of that, the city believes the agreement is on solid footing, even if public funding from the grant is used to expedite the work.
“We have a mechanism to move forward with that and figure out those funding arrangements,” said Jeremy Keene, the city’s Public Works director. “We haven’t made any commitment to fund that road publicly. The agreement says the developer is building all the roads in the development.”
As approved, the development agreement caps the building heights around the perimeter of Hellgate Meadows. It also limits townhouses to eight units per structure, and it limits multi-dwelling units to 16 per building.
All told, the project would include roughly 620 dwelling units, far less that what the requested zoning would allow.
“We’ve provided a development agreement to soften and ratchet down the uses,” said Nick Kaufman with WGM Group, which represents the Hellgate Meadows team. “The density is reduced to about 62% of what’s allowed in (zoning). We’ve added a three- to four-acre park.”
While the agreement goes to the full City Council for consideration, the development team is working to win the support of surrounding residents. Many initially opposed the project, though changes made to the agreement have slowly gained support.
“We have come a long, long way, and (Kaufman) has done a masterful job of taking into account the concerns of the neighborhood,” said Kathy Snodgrass, a Hellgate resident. “He gave us some parkland we needed desperately, and he did a great job of moving the higher density things away from the neighborhoods already established.”
But while the project will “make a good neighbor,” Snodgrass and others expressed lingering concern about one portion of the development dedicated to apartments. As proposed in the agreement, those apartments would sit adjacent to residents living in an established condominium development at 4100 Mullan Road.
Residents of those condominiums believe the apartments would disrupt their view and reduce their property values. After the condos were built, an apartment project moved in to the east. Residents fear that they could now fill in to the west as well.
“If there were apartment buildings similar to what is east of us, toward Reserve Street, I call it the canyon of apartment buildings,” said condo resident Jim Clayborn. “It’s rather sterile, and it would break my heart to see anything like that developed.”
Rosemary Thurston, another condo resident, was among several asking the developer to relocate the apartment proposal within the Hellgate Meadows development.
“We are concerned about lowering the value of the condos,” said Thurston. “I’m opposed to all the apartments in there, because we have so much density already. I do appreciate all the green work, and I appreciate they have changed things a little bit. We just don’t want those apartments (in their proposed location).”
Condo resident Gail Kriskovich added, “Affordable housing is one thing for people, but the property values of property owners is also a concern. It would definitely decrease my property values, and everybody else in those corner condos on 4100 Mullan.”