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Old Sawmill District set to begin residential phase of development

A rendering of the first phase of housing development in the Old Sawmill District.

After seventeen years of planning and years of construction on the south side of Wyoming Street, the developers behind the Old Sawmill District will move north to begin the first phase of the neighborhood’s residential component.

The Missoula City Council on Monday held its first hearing on a proposed boundary line relocation and is expected to approve it early next month. That will clear the way for around $250,000 in infrastructure work and the construction of the first 13 residential lots.

“We’re going to be starting construction this fall,” said Leslie Wetherbee, one of the district’s developers. “We have 11 (under contract) in the first phase and we have 10 more reserved. We’re figuring next April or May is when people will be moving in.”

The Old Sawmill District represents one of the largest infill projects taking place in Montana, and it has been a hub of construction activity for the past six years, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment.

Completed projects include four condominium buildings, a 213-bed student housing facility and an office building. A new technology campus for Cognizant-ATG is under construction, and other projects are waiting in the wings.

The first phase of the district’s residential component is on deck next. At full build out, the district will include around 80 townhomes. The first 13 are set to undergo construction this fall.

“The developer is hearing large demand for single family homes, duplexes or townhomes,” said Ryan Salisbury, the principal engineer with WGM Group. “We’re honing in on a product type that’s in demand and works for finding the sweet spot for not having too big of a lot, or a lot that’s too small and doesn’t sell because it doesn’t have an acceptable floor plan.”

The master plan for the Old Sawmill District.

Wetherbee said the residential component has been a key piece of the master plan all along, but it took time to reach with the district’s other large projects developed first. At one point two years ago, the district had four buildings under construction at the same time.

“We’ve been wanting to get the townhomes going, but we had to go through this first,” said Wetherbee. “We’ve been moving forward with getting some designs done and figuring out the boundary lines. We decided to make them bigger with more yard. As we were talking to people, it sounded like that was what they really wanted.”

The first dozen townhomes will include two floors with a tuck-under garage and rooftop balconies. While prices will range on the high end – between $690,000 and $925,000, according to Wetherbee – demand is high and the waiting list is growing.

Land costs are also high and material costs are at record highs.

“It’s hard to make them come in as an affordable unit,” said Don MacArthur, owner of MMW Architects. “It’s an interesting dilemma we face as a community – with current construction costs and costs of land – how we construct those kinds of units.”

But the developer also has plans for a separate project planned on the west end of the district that’s intended to be more attainable in pricing. While plans remain in the works, Warehouse Flats will likely include two buildings containing dozens of one bedroom, one bath units.

“Our plan is to put those one block west of the townhomes,” said Wetherbee, adding that the townhome component will likely take several years. “We’re already filing the second phase of the plat.”