By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
The Missoula City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee sent an expansion request from Southgate Mall back for additional review on Wednesday, citing concerns over the future of Mary Avenue and other issues in the redevelopment plan.
The mall, which is prepared to embark on the first phase of a large expansion plan that will start this summer with a nine-plex movie theater, a lifestyle retail center and a new connector street, is seeking a permit from the city to begin the work.
But committee members questioned the project’s larger transportation impacts, including the location of the Mountain Line transit stop and in what phases the mall would tackle needed improvements to bicycle parking, sidewalks and other areas.
“I’m a little bit troubled that we haven’t thought through this circulation thing a little bit more,” said Ward 4 council member John DiBari. “I’m thinking this isn’t quite ready for prime time yet.”
Drew Larson with the city’s Development Services said the existing mall is currently in non-compliance with several city ordinances, including inadequate landscaping, a lack of bicycle parking, pedestrian accessibility and excessive parking.
The mall was permitted under older zoning laws that have since been tightened and expanded. Mall representatives said the plans would address and improve the deficiencies as each phase of the project advances.
“There are a lot of things we’d like to do, but the realities of working through the changes at the mall don’t allow us to do everything we’d like to do all at once,” said Jeremy Keene of WGM Group. “The reason we’ve created a long-term plan is to look at phasing those changes over time.”
Phase 1 of the proposal is expected to begin this summer with the construction of a new nine-plex movie theater and lifestyle retail center.
The work would also include an 8,000 square-foot addition to the retail building housing Bob Wards and the World Market. Parking lots would be reconfigured to make way for Mary Avenue – a new connector street that will eventually link Brooks and Reserve streets.
“The mall is currently served by 3,371 off-street parking spaces, which is actually 5.4 spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross retail space, so it’s nonconforming to our maximum parking regulations,” said Larson. “The proposed (mall) expansion and right-of-way (Mary Avenue) eliminates 237 off-street parking spaces, bringing the property closer to conformance by allowing 4.6 spaces per 1,000 square feet.”
The first phase of work is expected to last through 2018. It also marks the first phase of a long-term plan to transform the mall into a neighborhood hub that will include additional retail, dining and housing opportunities.
While Keene didn’t dispute the committee’s need to address several issues before voting, he said the project and it’s future tenants were under a tight timeline.
“There’s a lot of things that have to fall into place that are all dependent upon us getting approval on this,” Keene said. “Time is of the essence. We appreciate some urgency in making a decision. We’d be glad to work with you on design elements.”
The committee will revisit the issue later this month before it goes to the City Council for a vote.