Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With industrial space lacking in the greater Missoula area, the county this week will consider a new subdivision proposed for 116 acres in the old West Bonner Log Yard, which once supported the operation of the Stimson lumber mill across the river.

The lumber mill has since shuttered at the property now serves as an industrial center. The 116 acres across the river could be next if Missoula County commissioners approve the proposal this Thursday.

“They are proposing a phasing plan to split it into two phases,” said Jamie Erbacher, a project representative at WGM Group. “The property has been used for industrial purposes in the past, including the log yard for the Stimson mill and a closed landfill for organic wood waste.”

Proposed by Flying Colors Group, the project would create 27 industrial lots and one residential lot. The industrial lots would be placed in two districts, including heavy industrial to the south and light industrial to the north.

The property currently includes one building that formerly housed Harris Manufacturing and work related to the oil sands project in Canada. Under new owners, Flying Colors has most recently leased the building to the Yellowstone television series as a production studio.

In their presentation to the Consolidated Planning Board last month, WGM group didn't detail the proposed uses for the new industrial subdivision, other than to say it would create jobs.

“Not only will the subdivision provide an opportunity for increased jobs, we see an opportunity for the West Riverside live-make neighborhood to move into incubator space within the subdivision,” said Erbacher. “Bonner was one of three areas of Missoula County capable of facilitating meaningful industrial development.”

A recent review by Sterling CRE of Missoula identified the region's lack of industrial space as a potential barrier to economic growth. The existing Bonner Log Yard industrial area east of the river is full, as is the county's industrial park near the airport.

Looking for new opportunities, the county approved a 160-acre industrial development at the Wye in 2022, and it created a Targeted Economic Development District (TEDD) for the West Bonner Log Yard in 2014. That allows any tax increment collected from new development to go toward public infrastructure needs.

A map of the subdivision's proposed layout.
A map of the subdivision's proposed layout.

Members of the area's neighborhood council, along with members of the planning board, said that could include infrastructure needs, including a small community wastewater plant – one that could replace the need for individual septic systems.

“The one thing this area doesn't need is more septic. It's right on the river,” said Rick Hall. “We don't have infrastructure to support growth in this area. But there's a group put together for West Riverside that's consideration small-scale treatment. I want to encourage community wells and community septic to try and limit the impact.”

The project is also proposing a public-access trail between the subdivision and the Blackfoot River. It would connect Milltown State Park to public lands west of the river and north of the subdivision.

County planning staff and WGM Group said the property is already zoned for the proposed project and its intended industrial uses.

“The community vision for an industrial use at this site is what the project helps implement,” said Jeff Smith with WGM. “There's a multitude of things that could be facilitated within that industrial center. The TEDD district in the site also creates some opportunity for some additional public improvements in infrastructure around that site.”

The county will consider the project on Thursday at 2 p.m.