Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The developers behind a proposed subdivision in Lower Miller Creek added detail to their project on Monday night, and while area residents didn't express outright resistance to the design, they did touch on several concerns.

The Riverfront Trails subdivision proposes 176 housing units on 32 acres. The project would dedicate the remaining 44 acres to open space and riverfront protection – a concept project designers described as unique.

“The proposal is unique in that half of the property under consideration is being preserved to protect natural habitat and public access,” said Allison Mouch with Woith Engineering. “As part of this development, we felt it was important to enhance that access and respect an area that's so important to wildlife by setting back the development and really preserving parts of the property that are most appropriate for open space.”

Mouch said the project's layout sought to create a neighborhood that mixed different housing types to address the city's housing needs. City officials have praised such projects in the past and are attempting to move away from designs that segregate lower-cost housing from high-end housing.

Mouch said affordability is addressed through project's blend of housing types, which range from single family to duplexes and tri-plexes.

“As a package, the development as proposed is going to really enhance the Missoula community,” said Mouch. “There's some great assets we feel are important in accomplishing the city's goals, not only in affordability and accessibility, but also in open space and environmental protection along the riparian corridor.”

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While the project has received praise for its design, some area residents have expressed concern regarding certain elements. Among them, they have pushed back against a proposed building height allowance of 45 feet on three lots fronting Lower Miller Creek Road. Those lots are identified for a church and senior living.

And while the city is funding improvements to Lower Miller Creek Road, it intends to create a Special Improvement District to help fund other transportation needs, including a roundabout at the intersection of Old Bitterroot Road.

The developers will fund a portion of it and area residents will also contribute if the district is created.

“Part of that cost is going to be passed on to the residents by an SID. I don't feel this is fair and the residents of the neighborhood don't think it's fair,” said resident Julie Anton. “I'd like to see the developer take responsibility for that roundabout.”

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City Attorney Jim Nugent said it's up to the city to determine who benefits from the roundabout and any other traffic improvements that would be funded by the SID. Current residents already use the infrastructure, and the future residents of Riverfront Trails would as well.

Nugent said SID's are determined by benefit.

“The benefit does not have to be equal for all properties that are assessed,” he said. “The cornerstone to a Special Improvement District is focused on benefit. City staff might have to give some thought as to how they might want to allocate, based on their analysis, what the benefit would be for that SID.”

Other area residents supported the project but asked that it include a small commercial component to reduce the number of trips residents have to take to get simple items.

“The mixed use proposed by this subdivision doesn't serve the neighborhood, though it might serve the community,” said Doug Odegaard. “I ask that there be a commercial lot. I would really like to see small market to make it so we don't have to leave the neighborhood to get small things.”

The City Council opened its public hearing on the proposed subdivision last Wednesday and continued it on Monday night.

This Wednesday, council is expected to hold a committee vote on the project before passing it back to City Council. As it stands, the project currently has 49 conditions it must meet for approval.

Some area residents have signed a petition of protest, which reached the threshold needed to require a super-majority vote in City Council.