Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Facing access issues in a growing Missoula subdivision, the county has agreed to grant an extension to the final two phases of the development but is asking the builder to install a second road to serve the project.

The Ranch Club Subdivision off Mullan Road was initially approved in 2003 as Phantom Hills Estates. It includes 323 lots on 340 acres, and the project has been platted in 11 phases.

County planner Zack Jones said nine phases have been filed but the final two have not. The original deadline to file phases 10 and 11 ends this year, though the county can grant an extension of up to three years if it chooses to do so.

But when seeking agency comments regarding the extension, the city's Department of Public Works and the Missoula Fire Department brought up concerns over access to the subdivision, particularly in light of a structure fire that occurred earlier this year.

“The old subdivision is only accessed by one road – Ranch Club Road – which is more on the western edge of the subdivision. It's pretty far to get to the parts further east,” said Jones. “Earlier this year, there was a residential structure fire that created an obstruction due to the fire activities. Residents who lived beyond where that fire was couldn't access their homes or leave. If there was another emergency, that would have created an issue. It's not a great situation.”

To address the issue while also giving the developer more time, the county last week approved a one-year extension for Phase 10 and a three-year extension for Phase 11. The extension is subject to an updated list of conditions, one of which includes the new access road, which is part of Phase 10.

Chris Wasia with Genesis Engineering, which represents the developer, said the agreement was acceptable, though challenges still loom.

“The extension helps us solve this problem. Without the extension, I'm not sure how we get that access in in a timely manner,” he said. “We'll be under a time constraint to get the infrastructure in in a year, because there's fairly deep sewer, water and stormwater mains that need to be installed in that street, and the soils out there are fairly problematic.”

Wasia added that clay and gravels from the old glacial lake are the main issue. The material creates a water barrier and to work with it, the soil must be conditioned.

“We'd love to have two years, but we think we can crash our schedule and maybe get the utilities in and a partial road that's all-weather surface,” he said. “Our goal is to not have what happened earlier this year happen again.”

While the Ranch Club was approved by the county in 2003, the property now lies within city limits. Jones said that has created an unusual circumstance regarding review and approval.

“This is an interesting circumstance where the county is the one approving this request despite it being in the city, because the subdivision was originally approved by the county before it was annexed by the city,” he said.