Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula County on Monday said it still plans to create an infrastructure plan for the Wye, a project that's been discussed now for two years.

County Planner Andrew Hagemeier said the county contracted WGM Group as a consultant last year. The firm began working on the project's scope before the county paused the work in January.

“Now the project is rolling again,” said Hagemaier. “WGM has put together a fantastic team and put together a fantastic proposal. We're starting a little later than we intended. But we're going to get it done.”

The land-use element adopted by the county in 2019 identifies areas around the Wye as neighborhood residential. Among other things, it calls for more than eight dwelling units per acre, along with a blend of commercial and industrial services, and a proper road grid.

But the infrastructure needed to support such development doesn't yet exist, and the clock may be ticking. A number of landowners north of the Wye are looking to develop their property, but the county hopes to keep large tracts undeveloped until an infrastructure plan is in place.

To do so, it has maintained limitations on growth.

“The idea is to keep it relatively undeveloped until we get a chance to put the infrastructure out there,” Hagemeier said last May. “Our regulatory decisions may limit the value of the property in the short term, but it will maximize the value of the property in the long term. We're trying to make public investments in infrastructure out there.”

Missoula County zoning plan for the Wye.
Missoula County zoning plan for the Wye.

The county's infrastructure plan for the Wye will include a range of public services including water and sewer, a street grid and other urban needs. While current growth is heavily concentrated around the greater Mullan area, the county believes the Wye will emerge as the next hotbed of residential and commercial development.

To help fund some of the infrastructure needs, the county in 2020 adopted a new Economic Development District around the Wye. Such districts capture tax increment that can be applied to infrastructure work.

Initially, the county had sought to include an analysis on tax increment in its infrastructure plan for the Wye but will now do so in a separate contract.

“We pulled that out so it's not a subcontract of this. But it's still within the overall budget and will be a separate contract,” said Emily Brock, the county's director of land and economic development. “There's still exploration we can do on expanding it (the district) if we need to.”