Members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday began hearing a request to rezone 57 acres off Flynn Lane and amend the growth policy to allow a subdivision that aims to provide housing at a greater density with some commercial offerings.

The property was planned and zoned as part of the Hellgate Meadows subdivision in 2002. But in the years since, needs and conditions have changed, according to Nick Kaufman, a planner with WGM Group representing the developers.

“We want to bring the design contemporary with the needs of Missoula, and we need a growth policy amendment to do that, and a zoning change,” Kaufman said. “This residential area continues to be a vital part of meeting the housing needs of this community.”

A number of developers under HEH LLC, including Dave Edgell and Wade Hoyt, have already submitted a permit to begin an eight-acre subdivision located on the property's northern edge. That portion of the project includes a mix of housing types at an average density of 10 units per acre, well below what's authorized by zoning.

While plans haven't been submitted for the remaining 49 acres, that portion of the project would likely achieve a higher density. Those behind the project believe that housing is needed to help Missoula address its housing shortage, and they're moving forward with cost in mind.

“We get more homes per acre, which reduces the price of a lot, and we get more homes per linear foot in infrastructure when we do density, and that reduces the price,” Kaufman said. “What's needed with that is a really good design.”

Changing the zoning to neighborhood mixed-use would align the city's growth policy with “emerging public needs.” Those needs include the city's housing crunch and a desire to expand the housing inventory across a number of price points and options.

“In this case, the one emerging public need is for more housing, which was identified in the recently adopted city housing policy,” said city planner Jenny Baker. “This amendment supports that need by permitting more density and a greater diversity of permitted housing types.”

Baker said the requested change would amend the zoning to support the proposed development. As it stands, she said, zoning doesn't allow the project as planned, nor does it fill the city's need for additional housing near public infrastructure.

“We don't have formal applications for development on the southern parcel, but preliminary conversations with the owners and representatives indicate that the current land use designation would not support their proposal,” Baker said. “This is also true for the northern parcel where we do have a subdivision request.”

The project would sit at the corner of Flynn Lane and Mullan Road and abut two existing subdivisions, including Pleasant View and Hellgate Meadows.

Residents from both neighborhoods expressed early opposition to the project. Density, parking and transportation topped their concerns.

“I've known for years these acres were going to be developed,” said resident Jill Allard. “But that's a neighborhood that's struggling to exist without being on top of each other. It's becoming awfully tight in there. This may be a good design, but I'm so concerned that just because we can shove as much as we possibly can onto this section of land, that we should.”

Other residents expressed concerns over traffic. One resident, whose apartment overlooks the project site, said Mullan Road is nearly inaccessible due to large traffic volumes. Other neighborhood outlets aren't much better, he said.

“The ingress and egress, if there were ever a fire in there, you couldn't get out of there, because you can't get onto Mullan Road. It's impossible,” the man said. “The morning traffic backs up on Flynn Lane almost clear back to the airport road.”

The city and county have applied for a $23 million federal grant to address transportation issues in the area. If approved, the funding would see George Elmer Drive and Mary Jane Boulevard completed as collector roads from Mullan to Broadway.

While members of the council set a public hearing on the zoning change and amended growth policy for next month, they held back on expressing support or opposition to the project.

But Jordan Hess did share concerns offered from Hellgate residents, mainly around the conflicts resulting from the apartments to the south of the neighborhood. He listed a lack of connectivity, speeding traffic, emergency vehicle routes not being honored, and the use of common areas by people who don't live there among the concerns.

“There's a tremendous amount of impact on Hellgate Meadows from all the development to the south,” Hess said. “I appreciate the planning process, but how do we have some assurance, since we can't condition zoning, that this process doesn't go off the rails and we end up with more of that disjointed development?”

Kaufman said the concerns have been expressed during recent meetings with area residents. He said the developers and land use planners will address them as the project moves forward.

“They're legitimate concerns and we try to address them as best we can,” he said. “Internally, we'll provide our own open space and parks, and we won't put up fences to disallow people from Pleasant View or Hellgate. When you connect neighborhoods and spaces like you're supposed to, there's a sense of neighborhood and a sense of community.”