Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The developers behind a proposed subdivision in the Sxwtpqyen Neighborhood plan to preserve and refurbish elements of a historic ranch that occupies the property and align the development with surrounding projects.

In its request, Cathcart Properties Inc. is asking the city to annex the 19-acre property upon preliminary approval of the subdivision. If approved, Sapphire Place would include 39 lots with a total of 300 residential units in a range of building types, including duplexes and apartments.

City planner Dave DeGrandpre said the project, located off Flynn Lane, represents the second major subdivision to come forward within the Sxwtpqyen Neighborhood Master Plan.

“The form-based code requires at least three different housing types,” DeGrandpre said. “The developer plans to provide three different building types in this area.”

City planners have recommended the project for approval, along with annexation and a zoning change to accommodate several lots where access is challenging. Doing so doesn't violate the zoning ordinance or the growth policy, DeGrandpre said.

Neither would annexation.

“The developer would like to tie the annexation to approval of the final subdivision plat,” he said. “The annexation would become effective upon satisfactory completion of all the conditions of annexation and approval of the final subdivision plat.”

The project went before the Consolidated Planning Board this week, which recommended approval of the zoning change. However, the board was split on the project itself, as some lamented the lack of mixed uses within the Sxwtpqyen planning area.

The master plan envisioned a number of mixed uses, such as coffee shops and daycares, among other commercial offerings. But Sapphire Place and West End Homes, which was approved last December, have focused more on housing than commercial space.

DeGrandpre said that could be a function of timing.

“What I've heard from developers is that you need rooftops first. It's the chicken and egg thing,” he said. “If you want to develop a coffee shop or daycare or something like that, you need customers in close proximity to do that. At this point in time, those rooftops aren't there yet.”

If they're not there yet, they'll be coming soon. Last year, the City Council granted preliminary plat approval of West End Homes, a project that covers around 70 acres and would cluster 260 lots while retaining some open space.

West End Homes adjoins Sapphire Place and later this summer, City Council will be asked to consider a third project in Icon Apartments, which also neighbors Sapphire Place. Approval of all three projects would provide nearly 1,000 new housing units in a range of building types within the Sxwtpqyen planning area.

At some point, the city expects commercial opportunities to find their way into the planning area.

“I understand it's a financial gamble for developers to put in the commercial development without seeing people actually living there,” said council member Mirtha Becerra. “But based on our data, we have a lot of rooftops that will be coming that way. It's a little disappointing to see there's no strong commercial or mixed-used development in this area. It's why we spent a lot of time and resources to create a plan that would provide that in this area.”

Proposed design of Sapphire Place.
Proposed design of Sapphire Place.
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Data released this week by the city found the majority of new residential permits issued over the last two years have been for the Mullan area, which includes the Sxwtpqyen planning area. It also found that the bulk of properties with entitled lots – or areas pending future development – are largely centered in the Mullan area.

The city and county of Missoula applied for and received a $13 million federal grant to lay the infrastructure and roadwork in the area ahead of anticipated growth. But while development is slowly filling in, commercial amenities remain lacking.

Joe Dehnert with IMEG, which represents both West End Homes and Sapphire Place, said it's likely to come when the time is right.

“I'm particularly excited about this development. It had its challenges and required a lot of flexibility from the development team,” he said. “We already have West End Homes to the south and there's a lot of talk about commercial opportunities for that open space. To have multi-family housing within walking distance of that is exciting.”

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