By Martin Kidston
A midtown Missoula neighborhood eyed for growth but lacking open space could gain a new park, so long as the City Council approves spending what’s left of the 1995 Open Space Bond to help acquire the property.
A longstanding gap in the Bitterroot Branch Trail could also be completed.
On Wednesday, the city’s Parks and Conservation Committee approved the measure, which would apply $390,000 in open-space funding to help purchase the property, owned by Montana Rail Link.
“One of the main things that sets the 1995 Open Space Bond apart from the 2006 bond is that it can be used for developed park land,” said Elizabeth Erickson, the city’s open space manager. “It also allows for the money to be spent toward acquiring community trails.”
The deal is part of a larger $2 million effort to acquire 12 acres of MRL property, located between North and South avenues along Johnson Street.
Mayor John Engen signed the purchase agreement last month, saying the purchase price is well below market value, representing a donation by MRL. The agreement gives the city roughly 120 days to conduct an environment assessment of the industrial lot.
If the property comes up clean and the larger project advances to purchase, the City Council would consider issuing $2 million in revenue bonds to cover the full cost. The $390,000 in open-space funding would be applied toward the acquisition, along with the cost of extending the Bitterroot Branch Trail across the property.
“For me, closing that trail gap is a huge thing,” said Ward 1 council member Bryan von Lossberg.
The project would also bring a 4.5-acre park to a neighborhood that city officials say is undeserved by open space. The city’s Master Parks Plan recommends 2.5 acres of parkland for every 1,000 residents.
As it stands, Erickson said, The Franklin to the Fort Neighborhood falls short of that measure.
“The neighborhood has some of the lowest number of acres of park per capita,” she said. “The population will continue to increase. There will be future commercial and residential development, and the acres of parkland have not kept pace with that development. The money in the 1995 bond has been held to address that deficiency.”
The full City Council will consider the issue at a public hearing next month.
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org