A downtown property prized for its location and potential for redevelopment is seeking a rezone request, signaling what’s expected to be a change in use with a potential for housing and new commercial opportunities.
The Missoula Consolidated Planning Board next month will consider a request from Lee Enterprises, the parent owner of the Missoulian newspaper and owner of the property at 500 S. Higgins Avenue, to rezone the lot to a higher commercial standard.
Doing so, the company’s representative states in its application, will bring the property in line with the rest of the Hip Strip and the Downtown Master Plan’s vision for the area.
“In order for any new development to happen on this property, the site must be rezoned,” the WGM group contends. “The Downtown Master Plan envisioned a redevelopment of this site, along with the Hip Strip. This design increased the height and intensity of uses along the Hip Strip. The goals of the Downtown Master Plan, focus inward, and the Growth Policy cannot be gained if this site is not rezoned.”
Lee Enterprises listed the building for sale one year ago for the asking price of $8.5 million. The property went under contract with an anonymous buyer shortly after and the sale was expected to close in the spring.
The property’s current zoning was created for a specific use – to accommodate the Missoulian. Lee Enterprises is now seeking to rezone the property, which would allow for mixed-use development, though the application doesn’t state the intended project or name the buyer.
Lee’s zoning request is similar to other properties along the Hip Strip. The zoning permits taller construction and housing at a greater density, similar to other areas of downtown and the commercial corridor.
“As you can see, this site has a great potential to add to the vibrancy of the Hip Strip and create additional housing stock,” the application states. “The zoning has the ability to convert the Hip Strip from a stop to a destination by providing parking and additional commercial development. A residential development within a mixed-use building strengthens the retail component and identity of the Hip Strip as a neighborhood.”
While the application is short on details, it suggests that final design will result from community input. That input could take place both before and after the zoning process is complicated.
Among the details that are included with the application, new zoning would allow for the removal of the dated Missoulian building currently on the property. Through the city’s new design standards, its replacement would “provide for an open corridor from the intersection of Fourth and Higgins to the Kim Williams Trail on the river.”
Area zoning allows for building heights of 125 feet, though the city’s design excellence now requires a “step back” from four stories along the street to higher features set away from the street. The application makes mention of this requirement and names housing and commercial as one of the driving forces behind the rezone application.
“This site will create the final pillar of downtown,” the application reads. “What was once a dark corner of the neighborhood can be lit up with activity. Uses permitted within the zone will mirror what is already existing along the Hip Strip. The open space zoning will allow a natural buffer from proposed development and create a gathering area directly off of the Kim Williams Trail.”