Two years after a contingent of local leaders traveled to the nation’s capital to lobby for an infrastructure grant, the pieces are now in place and construction is set to begin this spring.
Missoula County last week approved the Sxwtpqyen (Mullan) Neighborhood Master Plan and the zoning that will guide the development of several thousand housing units, streets, trails and neighborhood amenities over the next decade.
Approval concludes several years of work and a lengthy public process.
“This is the most progressive planning you’ll see in the state of Montana for a county by far,” said county planner Andrew Hagemeier. “It’s a really exciting project. It received national attention in the planning community. It’s going to be a really neat place when it develops.”
Missoula County received the $13 million federal BUILD grant in November 2019. While it wasn’t the full amount requested, it was enough to kick start the first phase of a major infrastructure project west of Reserve Street.
Missoula is expected to add 20,000 new residents over the next 15 years, and elected officials are looking to guide that growth in a proactive and well-planned manner. The resulting Sxwtpqyen Neighborhood Master Plan and zoning tools set the stage for that development.
“All the effort that went into this, it’s a huge achievement,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “Not a day goes by when we don’t hear about our very real and very intense housing crisis.”
The planning area creates several new roads connecting Mullan Road and West Broadway, and it extends England Boulevard to the west. Together, the network of streets, trails, water and sewer will open access to around 1,500 acres of land, including light industrial.
The end result is expected to deliver 7,000 new and permanent jobs, nearly 4 miles of trails, $2.6 million in taxable value and 6,000 homes.
“We’re looking at up to 6,000 units,” said Slotnick. “We’re looking at quite a time horizon, but this is a very real effort we’re making to address that.”
The area has been growing for the past three decades, starting with large retail centers on North Reserve in the mid-1990s. More recently, a number of major subdivisions have been approved and the growth pressure continues to intensify.
Among other things, the plan calls for five walkable community centers with a blend of retail, commercial and office space. It creates new trails, the restoration of Grant Creek and a 40-acre urban farm. The entire area covers around 1,800 acres.
Planners also are looking to avoid urban sprawl and provide housing in what many are calling the “missing middle,” which includes more affordable options ranging from condos to apartments.
Last year, Missoula added 2,200 new residents, but the city’s housing stock remains critically low, fueling a year-over-year increase in prices. While the Mullan area will take time to develop, adopting the guiding tools for that growth sets the stage for the area’s future.
“We’re moving along at a pretty brisk pace, doing a great job at preserving community values and making sure development can move smoothly to develop all this infrastructure for 6,000 units,” said Slotnick.