Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) A parcel of city-owned land off Scott Street in Missoula went before the planning board this week, which recommended the City Council approve a rezone request needed to allow the project to build at the density sought in a number of plans for the area.

Approval will allow Ravara LLC, which has partnered with the city in developing the property, to build up to 65 feet and provide around 224 dwelling units. The number of dwelling units would be the same without the approved rezone, though the building height would be capped at just 50 feet.

“It's pretty much a one-story difference,” said city planner Tera Porgari. “But the added height will hopefully allow the development to get closer to the maximum density allowed in the zoning district while allowing a landscaped area by building up.”

Ravara plans to develop 9 of the 19-acres owned by the city off Scott Street. Three acres will provide 70 deed-restricted housing units on a community land trust in a blend of condos and townhomes. Such affordable housing was required as part of the agreement struck between Ravara and the city.

Another six acres will include market-rate housing, a plaza and a range of commercial amenities. The additional 15 feet in height is needed to design a pleasing project while preserving green space within its boundaries, planners said.

“The whole intent of this is to be able to build up to the density,” said Jamie Erbacher with WGM Group. “The increased height will help us do so and provide amenities where services already exist.”

City zoning seeks high-density infill

Current zoning and that requested by Ravara are the same in all ways other than the additional 15 feet in building height. The current zoning designation supports retail, offices, eating and drinking, entertainment and medium to high-density residential development.

A rendering of the proposed housing and plaza.
A rendering of the proposed housing and plaza.

City planners said plans for the area call for up to 43 dwelling units per acre – a target Ravara is working to hit. In doing so, it can provide other amenities, including what team member Kiah Hochstetler described as a “market hall.”

“It's intended to be retail services, such as a small neighborhood grocery, three different food vendors, a tap-house concept and potentially a gym and co-working space,” he said. “We're really focused on trying to preserve exterior space in landscaping and sharing that with the neighborhood. It can act as a pocket park for the neighborhood to engage in after grabbing refreshments and food from the market hall and strolling around the neighborhood.”

The Scott Street area remains one of Missoula's fastest developing districts. The vision for the area, which stretches from Scott Street to North Reserve, was crafted through a public process back in 2016. Now, the corridor is beginning to fill in.

Among the projects, the Vallagio will include around 200 units of affordable housing in two five- story buildings. The final phase of Scott Street Village also is coming to a close, providing a blend of single-family and multi-family housing.

The Vallagio remains under construction on the north end of Scott Street and plans to open to occupation in 2023. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)
The Vallagio remains under construction on the north end of Scott Street and plans to open to occupation in 2023. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The city also is exploring other options for properties that remain undeveloped. The area is prized for its redevelopment potential largely due to existing infrastructure and its proximity to two grocery stores, schools and downtown.

Traffic concerns as area develops

Like other projects in the area, that proposed by Ravara has raised traffic concerns among existing residents. As it stands, the primary link to the city is via a two-lane bridge over the railyard and a potholed road that parallels the railroad.

Project partner Jeff Smith said the number of projects taking place in the area and those to come prompted a recent traffic study. It offered a number of suggestions, including improvements to the intersection of Scott and Phillips Street.

“There's a capital improvement project in the works to improve the intersection's performance,” Smith said. “A couple of designs are being kicked around and the city is selecting a consultant for intersection improvements with possible design and construction over the next year.”

A bus stop also is planned on Scott Street.

The master plan for the area also envisions a number of transportation improvements for the area, including paths and bike lanes, a new road to Reserve Street and an interchange at I-90. But those may be years away, and the roundabout at Scott Street remains a concern for some members of the planning board.

“It's pretty small and it's older. There's going to be a lot of new traffic down there,” said board member Dave Loomis. “This is a heads up. The roundabout is where the real bottleneck is. I'm asking the city to have an eye and ear on the roundabout.”

The Ravara project would include commercial and retail amenities including food and drink.
The Ravara project would include commercial and retail amenities including food and drink.

Loomis was otherwise supportive of the development.

“This is consistent to what the plan and zoning anticipated,” he said. “There's a plan and zoning in place to do this intensity of project. Even though the building height of 65 feet is out of context in one way, it's in context with what the city wanted here.”

The planning board gave Ravara's requested rezone unanimous support. It will go before the City Council for final consideration.

“The concept of land banking and for the city to acquire this land and have some control over how it gets developed is something we really need in Missoula,” said board member Dori Gilels. “I think it's a great location for what we're doing. This is a location that's appropriate for that.”