While Missoula County passed on a proposal to redevelop Larchmont Golf Course into several thousand housing units, its decision to inventory its public land assets has housing advocates pleased, including city officials.
Commissioners in December instructed staff to complete a countywide inventory of publicly owned property that could be sold or redeveloped for similar housing proposals down the road. It most recently disposed several acres off Mullan Road to accommodate the Trinity housing project.
Missoula Mayor John Engen said he supported the move and believes it’s a step in the right direction.
“I’m really glad the county is doing a lands inventory and beginning to develop a sense of its surplus. It’s something we’ve done,” Engen said. “The county may be in a position to do some acquisition if they can dispose of some property that doesn’t make sense to them. A lot of folks are moving in the right direction here.”
Engen made his remarks to members of the Affordable Housing Resident Oversight Committee this week as it discussed its views on the Larchmont proposal and the county’s decision not to pursue it.
Like commissioners, Engen said there may be other and more immediate opportunities available to address Missoula’s housing shortage.
“That project on paper looked big and sexy and was a lot of units, but it’s also fraught with peril,” he said. “I think we have better short-term opportunities to get more done, quickly and meaningfully, than having what I imagine would be a 10-year squabble over Larchmont.”
The city already has completed an inventory of its land holdings and in recent years it has acquired other properties that will eventually accommodate housing and other mixed-used projects.
Engen has referred to the process as land banking – a strategy detailed in the city’s housing policy. The city recently entered into a public-private partnership with Ravara Development LLC to develop nine acres of city-owned property on Scott Street, and it currently owns several other parcels around the city.
That includes several properties on West Broadway around the Sleepy Inn, the site of the old downtown Library, a parcel in the Riverfront Triangle, and several acres near MRL Park in the Midtown district.
Engen this week said the city also owns 9 acres north of the Larchmont Golf Course that offers unique opportunities to develop. He said the city is currently working on plans to sell the parcel.
“It requires a little heavy lifting from staff and it requires action by City Council, but we think that piece is highly developable,” Engen said. “We can use those resources for some park replacement where we’re lacking on the Northside as we really start to build dense housing over there.”
Engen said the disposition will play out over time and suggested the city and county have other tools at hand to address Missoula’s housing situation.
“There’s a lot of moving parts, and Larchmont for me ends up being a bit of a distraction to the other more tangible and much more immediate work that we can do,” he said. “Nine acres is clearly not 130 acres, but we can do a lot with 9 acres. In my perspective, we chip away at that stuff.”
Some members of the housing committee also praised the county’s decision to review its land assets.
“I am hopeful on them looking at all the county properties,” said committee member Katie Carlson.