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O’Keefe Ranch Estates Subdivision wins county zoning approval north of Wye

Location of the proposed O’Keefe Ranch Estates Subdivision.

With housing in mind, developers behind two projects planned west of Missoula will connect to city services after the county approved a zoning request specific to each development.

The largest of the two projects includes O’Keefe Ranch Estates, where OO Land Holding LLC and Viking Builders plan to construct a 197-unit subdivision comprised of single-family homes, amounting to a density of roughly 2.5 homes per acre.

The project, located north of the Wye off Interstate 90 and Highway 93, looks to connect to city sewer. But to do so, the property must be zoned.

The developers last week sought and received a Rural Zoning District from the county. Ron Ewart with Professional Consultants Inc. said the designation was the only option available given the county’s limited zoning options.

“We tried looking at other districts,” Ewart said. “This design is not unique, and there should be a regular county district that allows this design, but there’s not. I’ve always felt the county zoning districts aren’t that realistic.”

A second and smaller project proposed by Jason & Karis Newbary in the same area also sought and received a rural zoning district specific to their proposal, and much for the same reason.

The developers plan to connect to city sewer and build a low-density residential development on the undeveloped lot. The approved zoning restricts the project to one dwelling unit per 2 acres.

While some questioned the low density when using city services – and given the area’s housing crisis – the property is limited in its use.

“That’s an extremely light zoning when you have a sewer present, and given that we’re in a widely acknowledged housing crisis,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “But the topography and groundwater conditions wouldn’t allow any more density. Housing crisis or not, high cost of sewer or not, it’s going to be light density because that’s all this area can support. What we’re left with is not a great set of options.”

The county is currently working on new zoning to accommodate such projects in the future as density becomes a larger issue. Missoula’s growth, its limited supply of developable land and the cost of providing proper services may require greater density.

But some existing areas already have covenants in place calling for more rural style development. That could present a challenge as the process plays out and the county seeks to increase the supply of housing and make better use of available land.

“Missoula County can use its authority to make a land-use decision that’s not in compliance with prior covenants,” said deputy county attorney John Heart. “But a property owner who has the authority to enforce those covenants could challenge that designation by Missoula County. That’s how it would probably play out.”