Residents decry proposed Mullan Road subdivision despite concessions by developers

The 57.5 acres proposed for rezoning and development is north of Mullan Road and east of Flynn Lane, west of Reserve Street. (David Stalling/Missoula Current)

City staff on Monday recommended the rezoning of 57 acres off Mullan Road be approved to accommodate a subdivision currently in the pipeline, one supporters say is needed to provide more housing in a city facing a housing shortage.

The Missoula City Council held its first public hearing Monday evening on the issue, which has percolated in a subcommittee now for several weeks. Developers are seeking to rezone the property so that it matches surrounding subdivisions, including Hellgate Meadows and Pleasant View.

But some residents in those neighborhoods oppose the project, saying they don’t want the housing density and traffic that comes with it. Concerns also include a lack of park land, school safety and fire access.

“It’s the responsibility of City Council to assure the city develops in a way that can provide a good quality of life for Missoulians rather than blindly pursuing maximum dwelling units at any cost,” said Kathy Snodgrass.

On a 7-0 vote with one abstention, the local planning board has already recommended the project for approval. Members of the Growth Policy Committee also supported the proposal on an 8-0 vote. It’s now up to the City Council to render a final decision.

The project is proposed by HEH LLC, headed by Missoula developers David Edgell and Wade Hoyt. They purchased roughly 8 acres in the proposed development and have an option on an additional 17 acres of property.

The remaining acreage would be developed under a master plan in subsequent years.

“We’re taking it in small steps in design, planning, zoning, subdivision and phasing of the subdivision,” said Nick Kaufman with WGM Group. “Here we are in 2019 and we have a housing need. Our need for housing has changed since 2002, and we need higher density.”

Developers have made concessions in an effort to woo neighbors, including reducing the number of dwelling units within the project, reducing building heights and pledging other transportation improvements, including a grid road system, connectivity and wider streets.

They’ve also crafted a development agreement to ensure the project doesn’t change scope.

“You’ve got one engineering firm planning the whole thing with two developers,” Kaufman said. “The development agreement is a factual agreement between the developer and the City Council. It can’t be changed without approval of the City Council.”

Still, opponents who don’t want housing as proposed in their neighborhood oppose the development.

“Density is a touchy issue,” Snodgrass said. “It’s required for affordability and to ensure Missoula doesn’t become a sprawling mess. But (this property) is not the place for dense apartments, and frankly, 16-unit apartments are a little denser than what makes for a friendly neighborhood.”

The council will continue its hearing in October before making a decision. A petition circulating among immediate neighbors has received enough signatures to require that the City Council win a super-majority vote before approving the project.

“You will need a two-thirds majority to approve it,” said Jenny Baker of Development Services.