Work to develop the infrastructure needed to accommodate current growth in the greater Mullan area is set to begin this spring and as it does, Missoula County is turning its focus to the near future and the next area identified for urban-style development.
The county this week announced its plans to seek roughly $250,000 in funding to complete an infrastructure plan for the Wye, including public services like sewer and water, a proper street grid and other needs.
While it could take years to extend such services to the area, an infrastructure plan guiding the area’s looming growth is needed now before the area develops on its own.
“The Wye is targeted for higher residential, commercial and industrial growth,” said Emily Brock, the county’s director of economic and land development. “This is the area the community wants to see us growing, in addition to focusing inward and building up in the urban core.”
The Wye was identified for its potential to accommodate urban-style development given its proximity to Interstate 90, the airport and Highway 93. Several subdivisions are already underway, though the area still retains large tracts of undeveloped land that could accommodate thousands of new homes and commercial opportunities.
The roughly 1,800 acres included in the Mullan-area master plan will see around 6,000 new housing units come online. The Wye holds similar potential, but it lacks the infrastructure needed to accommodate that development and a plan guiding the process.
“In looking at the long-term population growth projections over the next 10 to 20 years and the infrastructure needed to accommodate it, it’s pretty clear the Wye needs a street network, storm and groundwater management, a central water system, and it needs expanded sewer service,” said Brock. “This is one of two areas being called out for growth on the urban fringe.”
Missoula County in 2020 created a new Economic Development District in a small area near the Wye to begin capturing tax increment to help fund infrastructure improvements in the area.
The new district was the county’s first since it established a similar district at the Missoula Development Park, followed shortly after by the Bonner West Log Yard. Both districts are now full and have achieved their goal.
In creating the new district at the Wye, the county declared the area infrastructure deficient. But the district only covered a portion of the area, largely because other areas are still unzoned. The new infrastructure plan would encompass that wider area, Brock said.
Whether the city will extend sewer and water to the area will also be part of the conversation.
“We need to have an important conversation with the city about their growth policy and if they’re going to allow water infrastructure to develop in that area,” Brock said. “If not, we can work with our team to develop a water system in that area. Those are the conversations we’re going to have to have with the city.”
Andrew Hagemeier, a land-use planner with the county, said undeveloped areas around the Wye are targeted for higher-density growth, around eight housing units per acre. If left to develop on its own without a plan, the density would be far less.
With limited land available to accommodate Missoula’s growing population, it’s important to plan for the future to make the best use of available property, he said.
“It would accommodate a huge portion of the city and county’s housing needs over the future. But those areas don’t have any infrastructure right now to support any kind of development,” he said. “They’re fairly large tracts of land that haven’t been subdivided. But once subdivision starts to occur and you start chopping pieces of property up into 5- or 10-acre tracts, it becomes difficult to develop them in any cohesive manner in the future.”
Brock said the county is working with the Missoula Economic Partnership and other potential partners to secure the $250,000 in funding needed to begin the infrastructure planning.