Growth and development: Proposals emerging in Mullan Area Master Plan

A concept rendering of one urban square proposed in the Mullan Area Master Plan. The plan looks to provide up to 6,000 new units of housing across various types and incomes, placing them around parks, greenbelts and open space.

With a federal deadline hanging over plans to design and construct infrastructure west of Reserve Street, a parallel effort to design the area’s growth and future habitation continues to move forward.

On Wednesday, the consulting firm Dover, Kohl and Partners provided an update on the feedback gleaned from public input and virtual charrettes. The leading scenario favors a mix of housing opportunities and densities built around urban nodes, greenbelts, parks and walkable neighborhoods.

Boil it down and the Mullan Area Master Plan will provide up to 6,000 housing units, placing them near existing services while preventing urban sprawl and leapfrog development.

“We’re talking multi-dwelling – it could be apartments, condominiums, townhouses or duplexes,” said city planner Tom Zavitz. “This is to be a mixture of densities, done in a way that’s equitable so all incomes can participate and own something. This is done with an emphasis on being a complete neighborhood, and being able to walk to a neighborhood grocery store or school.”

Missoula County last year applied for and received a federal BUILD grant. The funding provides roughly $13 million to design and lay the infrastructure in a swath of Missoula bounded by Mullan Road and West Broadway, Reserve Street and the airport.

That infrastructure work must be completed by a set period of time, so the city is pushing forward to design the area’s land use and future zoning in a parallel public process. That will go far in dictating the area’s road network, and the road network will guide development.

“The density here saves land further out from being developed, which is more expensive to be developed and more expensive for the city to maintain,” said Zavitz. “There are a lot of ways this goes toward planning an affordable, efficient city that’s attractive to live, healthy and equitable. You’ll see a little bit of everything.”

The leading scenario was selected by 60% of those who have participated in the planning charrettes, including members of the public, nonprofits, and developers and their representatives. The blend would include 6,000 new units of housing across various types and incomes, enough to accommodate up to 20,000 residents.

Around 25% of the units would be single-family homes and 75% would include a combination of apartments, condos or townhouses in varying combinations.

It also includes around 150,000 square feet of neighborhood commercial, reducing the need to drive to downtown Missoula or Reserve Street. It preserves open space for community farms and parks, and looks to address zoning to make it easier to build affordable housing.

“The number one way to increase affordability is to increase supply,” said Jason King with Dover, Kohl and Partners. “Developers want to hit a price point of between $150,000 and $225,000, and none of the zoning categories will let them do it right now.”

The City Council will likely consider new zoning for the targeted area as part of the planning process, something land-use planners believe is necessary to accommodate future growth while also achieving predictability and flexibility.

That could include up-zoning in exchange for key features, including complete streets, walkable blocks and greenspace. It would give developers room to design within the parameters set by the city, while also ensuring those parameters aren’t overly restrictive.

“In order to get to something that’s more efficient and with the resources we have, we have to do things differing that we have in the past,” Zavitz said. “There’s going to be a bit more sophistication here, but that’s how we grow. It’s a different kind of review process than our staff is used to, but we’re growing from a small town into a bigger town. It’s something we have to get used to, but I think the result is going to great.”

The plan also calls for community gardens and the restoration of Grant Creek, including a wide natural area with marshes and wetlands. That would serve as a stopover for migratory birds and see native trout repopulate the waterway.

Planners also are working in tandem with Mountain Line to ensure the proposal offers the appropriate density to support public transit and the infrastructure to support it.

King said the region’s update to its Long Range Transportation Plan will help inform the process.

“The plan is not done yet, but it will incorporate what we do here,” he said. “This area will have high enough density to warrant transit and fund transit. We’re going to find a way to get Mountain Line here, and a lot less cars would have to be on Reserve Street.”