Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With plans to maintain the production of a small Missoula Valley farm, those behind the project want to add a business component to the operation, one intended to bring people closer to their food while supporting the growing operation in lean years.

Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, including Missoula County commissioners, recommended that the county approve the request, including the variance needed to make the business a reality.

“Agricultural lands are essential to the well-being of our community,” said Jamie Erbacher, a land planner with WGM Group. “We have members of our community who see the need to preserve the land and have the desire to continue farming it.”

Corner Farm Village sits off Third Street at 542 Tower Road and includes 10 acres, most of which have been under production for years. However, around half of the property sits within the floodplain, making other uses of the property difficult to achieve.

Last year, Missoula County approved a boundary line relocation that separated two acres of the property from the larger section where agriculture is still practiced. It's on that smaller parcel where backers look to open the business and eventually add residential opportunities.

“This property's floodplain almost covers the northern half of this property,” said county planner Jennie Dixon. “The applicants have decided to acknowledge that and keep the development to the better suited area to the south.”

Dixon said the 2-acre lot reserved for development could later be transferred into a trust for agricultural for a period of 75-years. The ag business in turn would support the farming activity that would continue on the larger tract.

“When we initially started with this project, we considered annexing into the city and developing at a much higher density,” said Erbacher. “After holding a neighborhood meeting, we heard concerns over parking and increased traffic. It was determined in the best interest of the community to scale the development back.”

Corner Farm Village would maintain the agricultural activities on an existing Missoula Valley farm while adding a business and future residential development to 2 acres.
Corner Farm Village would maintain the agricultural activities on an existing Missoula Valley farm while adding a business and future residential development to 2 acres.

County planners said state law is murky around the proposal related to the business end of the project. But county policy adopted in 2016 allows “a right to farm and ranch,” and the business component is needed to ensure that activity continues.

While the proposal is light on housing – if and when housing is considered – it looks to preserve good growing soils and make locally harvested products available for purchase. As proposed, the business could include a small cafe where local foods could be tested on a small scale, along with a farm stand.

Other listed activities could also include limited processing, a farm store, temporary events and agri-tourism. The zoning commission recommended the project for approval with eight conditions, most of which limit the business to uses deemed suitable for the area.

The business facility also is limited to 2,500 square feet.

“This is pretty arduous, this process,” said Erbacher. “They actually wanted to do more uses than what's listed on the variance. But we looked at the site and the impacts of those additional uses and determined that some of them aren't super appropriate.”