A sea of asphalt in East Missoula could become home to a new housing development if Missoula County approves a zoning change in the coming weeks.
The Consolidated Planning Board on Tuesday approved the revocation of past zoning that was created specifically for the parcel adjacent to the Ole’s fueling station back in 2011.
If approved by the county, revocation of that old zoning would bring the property in line with surrounding zoning and allow for a greater array of uses, including more housing.
Lifting the old variation granted to the property would also bring it in line with East Missoula’s neighborhood center land-use designation along Highway 200, county planners said.
“It would allow for greater flexibility to develop a project more in line with the neighborhood center designation,” said planning board member Josh Schroeder. “I’m inclined to support this, but I’d urge the developer to consider what a neighborhood center means.”
A zoning variation was placed upon the property in 2011 to accommodate a site plan that sought to build 44 housing units in three buildings. The variation allows nothing more on the property and the project never took place, and it’s limiting current development efforts.
Advocates also contend that the county in 2019 adopted the neighborhood center designation along the highway corridor in East Missoula – a vision that goes beyond what was proposed for the property back in 2011.
As a result, Castle Rock Construction LLC and their representative, IMEG, are asking the county to revoke the 2011 variation and place the property back under surrounding zoning.
“Our proposed plan is three multi-plex buildings with the primary change being 44 units to 59 units,” said Joe Dehnert with IMEG. “We understand that change in the community can be painful, but we also see the potential for these existing vacant lots.”
Dehnert said the vacant parcel is currently being used to park various vehicles, and it serves as an unauthorized shortcut to surrounding streets. That current use doesn’t meet the community’s vision for a neighborhood center.
“It’s designed to be a focal point,” Dehnert said of plans. “This proposed development aligns with the goals of the growth policy and would add more residents to the east Missoula community.”
Adding to the zoning challenges, Missoula County is currently working on new zoning, which could be in place within a year. The development team said its proposed project will align with that future zoning.
But some East Missoula residents want the county to wait for that future zoning to be adopted before revoking the variation placed upon the property in 2011.
“We have been working with the county trying to come up with a good neighborhood center, and I don’t think that waiting will cause something worse,” said resident Stephanie Lundberg. “I’m opposed to a three-story thing in the middle of the neighborhood that’s surrounded by one-story buildings that will forever be the tallest thing in East Missoula.”