Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The Missoula Consolidated Planning Board this week unanimously recommended a small subdivision in Frenchtown, praising its approach to preserving a portion of the property for agricultural uses.

While Granite Peak Estates only includes eight residential lots on 13 acres off Mullan Road, it raised many of the same concerns facing developers and planners in the greater Missoula area as they pit the region's need for housing against the desire to preserve open space and agriculture.

“I appreciate the effort made to this agricultural piece,” said board member Sean McCoy. “In my mind, as a small farmer, six acres is a lot and you can grow a lot on six acres. I think we could stand to have many more of those.”

The six acres referred to by McCoy was designed into the project to preserve it for farming uses. The other seven acres of the property will be divided into eight lots measuring roughly 1 acre.

County planner Tim Worley said the property is currently unzoned, though the old growth policy recommends open space. The lot sits within the Frechtown “activity center,” which once was eyed for potential growth of Frenchtown's traditional town center.

“Though we don't have growth policy compliance in the strictest sense here, this is an unzoned parcel,” Worley said. “We felt there weren't any aggravating issue that would recommend denial of the subdivision.”

Mullan Road will serve as the main access to a single, dead-end road that serves the subdivision. That required a county variance, as regulations require two access points. The county also placed restrictions on the project over water use.

As designed, each residential lot will be served by its own well, creating what Worley described as a “combined appropriation.” The combined properties will be limited on how much water the subdivision can consume.

“The total usage of these eight lots is restricted to 10 acre-feet in order to be exempted from water rights permitting,” Worley said. “We're recommending a condition that the wells be metered for use with a reporting requirement. There needs to be a demonstration that the 10 acre-feet threshold is not exceeded for the eight wells in combination.”

Shallow groundwater also prompted the county to restrict basements. The project is owned by Jorge Oaxaca and Howard Ong.

Joe Dehnert with IMEG, which represents the project, described the location as ideal for residential construction. It sits off the interstate and is surrounded by other development. South of the project lies in the Clark Fork River floodplain and areas to the north are hilly and forested.

“We believe this subdivision can provide home ownership options to residents and is a logical location for development,” Dehnert said. “We feel like development here makes sense. It's logical and it's needed.”