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Missoula Redevelopment Agency to fund engineering work for Northside housing project

Plans to develop nine acres of city-owned land off Scott Street with a blend of affordable and market-rate housing continue to inch forward. Designing the infrastructure will take place this summer. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

A complex plan to subdivide nine acres of former city land and transform it into a mixed-use development with several hundred housing units cleared another hurdle this week, though other challenges still lie ahead.

On Thursday, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s board of commissioners agreed to provide $316,000 in tax increment to fund the cost of designing the streets, utilities and other infrastructure needed ahead of construction.

The funding will carry the agreement with WGM Group up through the bidding process. The city will then issue tax increment bonds to fund the actual cost of construction.

“When it comes time to build these streets, we’ll need to issue bonds,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “We’ll have to come back with a request to fund the construction once we have it bid. We’ll recommend to the City Council they issue TIF revenue bonds to pay for that.”

The city purchased 19 acres off Scott Street in 2020 for around $6.3 million, and it approved an agreement with Ravara last summer to develop 9 acres into a mixed-use housing project with an element of affordability.

As designed, the 9-acre project includes a blend of condos and townhouses, market-rate apartments, a central square and a small retail center. The development and its various components would be bounded by the extension of several streets, including Shakespeare, Charlo and Palmer.

“MRA funded the public process, and we’ll now provide the public infrastructure needed to create the tracts of land,” said Buchanan. “The planning of the right-of-ways for Shakespeare, Palmer and Charlo will create the three tracts of land that will all be under separate ownership. We’re designing all of it now to take it to permitting by fall.”

The development as currently designed.

The townhouses and condos are proposed for a community land trust covering three acres on the north end of the project. The number of units in that portion of the project has been set at 42 townhomes and 36 condos.

But it may also hinge in part on the vote of a neighboring homeowner’s association to provide a public access easement to an alley. As designed, the Ravara project places parking off the alley, but if access is denied, that parking would have to go within the project’s interior, which carries design implications.

“If we’re not permitted to park off that alley, it will affect the design,” said project partner Dawn McGee. “Most of the townhomes would be flipped and we may need to eliminate some condos. We’ll have to reconfigure our design.”

Providing adequate parking has been a challenge throughout the design. Placing it underground is cost prohibitive, though dedicating precious ground that could be used for housing to parking isn’t a popular design concept.

The developers however feel confident the homeowner’s association will approve public access to the alley. But still, they note, nothing is certain.

“There’s always concern around construction and these other things,” said project partner Kiah Hochstetler. “But the demand and need for housing hasn’t changed in this town, and we think this has a huge role to play in helping solve home ownership for the 100% to 120% (are median income) individuals.”