After a protracted debate and legal advice from a number of parties, members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday agreed to consider a development agreement for a lower Grant Creek subdivision that’s currently seeking a zoning change.
The city is expected to vote on the zoning request for Grant Creek Village next Monday. If passed, the council would then vote on the development agreement. If the zoning request is denied as it was two years ago, however, then the development agreement would be null and void.
Those in support of the agreement said city code doesn’t provide KJA Development LLC any other means to assure surrounding residents that what it plans to build is what will get built if the zoning request is approved.
Alan McCormick, an attorney representing the KJA, said the agreement is a binding contract and is being used in place of a Planned Unit Development, which he said city code doesn’t allow.
“What we’re trying to do here is work with a code that no longer works for how properties develop,” said McCormick. “So we’re trying to find a way – and the development agreement was the way – that people can have assurance that what (KJA) is proposing to build would actually get built.”
While the agreement underwent some slight modifications on Wednesday, it generally limits the development to 700 dwelling units and a maximum height of 45 feet, or roughly four stories.
It details setbacks and the amenities the developer has pledged to build, including a swimming pool, a playground and hiking trails. Modifications to the agreement are expected to include wildlife smart additions and a properly placed bus stop.
Several council members sought to hold the agreement in committee until after the zoning request is heard on Monday. They suggested it was disingenuous to consider the agreement first.
“We’re voting on a development agreement before we vote on the rezone,” said council member Kristen Jordan. “We’re setting a precedent whether we like it not.”
Others said the rezone and agreement should be considered in sequence and that approving the agreement on Wednesday was simply a procedural step that’s needed to send the item to City Council for final consideration.
It was not, they said, an admission of support.
“It really is voting to send it to the council floor. The real vote that we as a city are going to get into with this contractual agreement is made on Monday night. There have been people who change their mind on Monday night. Some people just vote to get it to council floor,” said council member Amber Sherrill.
KJA is seeking a zoning change that would allow for more than 1,100 apartment units on a former gravel pit encompassing around 44 acres. Area residents have opposed the project, partially over its density.
Through the development agreement, KJA has imposed a 700-unit capacity. The council has been considering the project now for several months. It was expected to render a decision two weeks ago but pushed the item back to committee citing the need to revisit the development agreement.
Those who supported the agreement, including many residents, said it provided more surety surrounding the development. But even there, some questions remained and Grant Creek residents continued to express unease and opposition to the project.
“If the zoning is passed, what’s the incentive for KJA and associates to make further concessions at all if they’re given the rezoning they’re asking for?” asked Grant Creek resident Kim Birck. “There won’t be any more opportunities to get more concessions.”