Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) A subdivision planned on 16 acres off Mary Jane Boulevard was approved by the Missoula City Council on Monday night, and it marks the first time a development has moved through the state's new expedited review process.

Missoula Loft Homes, planned by Miramonte Homes LLC, will include 162 dwelling units in a variety of housing types, including single-family homes and row houses. The project also includes three acres of parkland.

While most subdivisions can take many months or longer before receiving final approval, Missoula Loft Homes sailed through the process using a new tool created by the Legislature allowing for expedited review under certain criteria.

“It was a great tool,” said Danny Oberweiser, a planner and civil designer with IMEG. “It certainly takes flexibility on the developer's part to meet the criteria for expedited review, but it was one of the quickest major subdivisions we've seen go through the city planning review and ultimately the governing body review.”

Gov. Greg Gianforte last year assembled a housing task force to look at boosting the state's supply of housing. Many of the recommendations were passed on and adopted by the Legislature earlier this year., including SB 161, which looks to make housing more affordable by cutting red tape.

The law carved out an expedited review process to remove the unpredictability, cost and time typically involved in getting a housing project reviewed and approved. The law applies within cities and counties where water and sewer already exist.

Oberweiser said a project must meet current zoning and can't seek any variances to qualify. Missoula Loft Homes met all the criteria when many other projects find it difficult for one reason or another.

“In general, that's very difficult for most projects. There's always something, like existing conditions that limit the project and you ultimately have to ask for a variance. In this project, the developer was somewhat flexible in their design to make sure we were compliant with those regulations.”

If time is money in the building industry, any delay in approval can add costs. Oberweiser said the new expedited review process could be useful for qualifying projects in Missoula moving forward.

“We'd love to see more of these projects move through. I think it's going to be difficult just knowing it's hard to meet the regulations to the T, but it's something we'll always be cognizant of, and we'll talk to a developer about the opportunity to do that,” Oberweiser said.