An apartment project proposed for the edge of the Old Sawmill District near downtown Missoula won the approval of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency's Board of Directors on Wednesday, including $48,000 in assistance to prepare the site for construction.

The project, proposed by Don Thompson, includes a four-story building containing 24 workforce apartments on the corner of Wyoming and California streets. The property currently includes a vacant single-family home and a deteriorating mobile structure.

“The request here is to help with the clearing of the site, and that includes moving the single-family structure and garage, and demolition costs of the mobile home,” said Chris Behan, assistant director of MRA. “The property's tenant has been relocated.”

The new apartment building will be the latest to join the parade of construction taking place in the Old Sawmill District, which remains part of Urban Renewal District II. A high-end condominium project dubbed Polly's Square is under construction on Wyoming Street, as is Sweetgrass Commons - an affordable housing project on California Street.

The new apartment building carries an estimated construction cost of $2.3 million. It's expected to boost the area's taxable value by 9 percent, according to Behan. A portion of the $48,000 in tax increment requested by the developer also covers the construction of sidewalks.

“When we started URD II and subsequent planning efforts, including the most recent Russell Street study conducted by the Sonoran Institute, all those folks suggested this neighborhood needs a little more density,” Behan said. “This fits with the goals we have for that district.”

While the wave of development within the district is welcome, MRA acknowledged that the area's infrastructure is lacking, including sidewalks and streets capable of accommodating future traffic volumes.

Next year, the Montana Department of Transportation is expected to begin expanding Russell Street from two lanes to four – a project that will begin with the replacement of the Russell Street bridge. The project also includes a new traffic signal at Russell and Wyoming streets, and the city is analyzing needed improvements to nearby California Street.

“We designed the northern part (of California Street) because we knew development was going to happen,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “Now we're starting to see some pressure on California south of Wyoming.”

Buchanan said the Missoula Housing Authority is looking to develop property on the stretch of California Street south of Wyoming. How quickly and in what manner the infrastructure develops across the district will depend in part on current and future building projects.

“The Sawmill District is the growth that's going to force this,” said Buchanan. “We need to start programming this. When the traffic signal goes in, there's going to be a ton of pressure on these three blocks along Wyoming.”

The apartment project is expected to break ground this spring and open for residents by the end of this year, though Luke Neville, the project's general contractor, admitted the window is tight.

“It'll be a push, but it's always a push on these types of projects,” said Neville. “Missoula is so busy right now.”