Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Citing the need to attract and support businesses and lay the groundwork for workforce housing, Missoula County this week declared an infrastructure deficiency at the Wye, allowing it to create a new Targeted Economic Development District.

The district, which works similar to Tax Increment Financing, enables the county to capture revenue from new development and direct that funding toward the cost of building public infrastructure.

“It will enable Missoula County to support value-added industries, which will in turn contribute to the overall economic well-being of the county,” said Emily Brock, the county's director of lands and economic development. “This resolution does not finalize the boundaries of the TEDD. It can get smaller but it can't get bigger.”

The county in 2020 created its first TEDD at the Wye with a goal of meeting the area's infrastructure needs. While the Wye has been identified as a good place for urban development given its proximity to the airport and the interstate, and its lack of prime agricultural soils, it lacks the infrastructure needed to support that growth.

But since the county created that first TEDD district three years ago, new legislation has altered the equation. Along with transportation, water, sewer and broadband, economic development districts now include workforce housing as infrastructure.

“We believe this meets the statute passed by the last Legislature, so we can use TEDD funds to support workforce housing and value-added industries,” Brock said. “In order to build enough workforce housing to serve the industries we want to see, we have to have a public water system. We also have to have a public sewer system.”

Brock said workforce housing is defined as 10 houses per acre, a figure that can't be met without public infrastructure. And given the county's lack of industrial space, the same infrastructure will be needed to attract it.

Brock said interest in the Wye is high but water infrastructure is lacking.

“Industries are not able to build out there – the kind of industry we want to see – because we don't have sufficient flow,” said Brock. “The vast majority of businesses that want to relocate or grow in Missoula, who want to be at the Wye, don't have adequate fire protection, and they can't get it without a water system.”

The roughly 1,800 acres included in the Mullan-area master plan will see around 6,000 new housing units in the coming years. The growth has been aided through planning and a $13 million federal grant to lay the basic infrastructure needed to support it.

The Wye holds similar potential but lacks the infrastructure needed to accommodate new urban development in a planned manner. Several subdivisions are already underway in the area, though the Wye still retains large tracks of undeveloped land that could accommodate thousands of new homes in the coming years.

“We've adopted zoning since the first TEDD at the Wye was created,” said Brock. “Our agricultural community and development community agreed this was the place to grow because it was not prime agricultural land.”