Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Considering the direction of future development, Missoula County on Thursday approved a contract with WGM Group to create an infrastructure plan for the Wye.

The area, located west of Missoula, is expected to grow in the coming years but currently lacks the infrastructure to support it. The pending plan will guide the infrastructure needed to support residential, industrial and commercial development and sustain long-term urban growth.

“The plan will develop options on how to address sewer and water, which are the big deficiencies in the area,” said county planner Andrew Hagemeier. “We have areas at the Wye that have water. They overlap in limited locations but not in large locations. When you have either one of those, that's where development wants to go. But when you don't have the other half of it, you get all these other problems.”

The land-use element adopted by the county in 2019 identifies areas around the Wye as neighborhood residential. Among other things, it calls for more than eight dwelling units per acre, along with a blend of commercial and industrial services, and a proper road grid.

But the infrastructure needed to support such development doesn't yet exist, and the clock may be ticking. A number of landowners north of the Wye are looking to develop their property, but the county hopes to keep large tracts of land undeveloped until an infrastructure plan is in place.

Hagemeier said the plan will identify the level of infrastructure and the type of systems necessary to support urban development. It will also lay out options for providing services and financing.

“We've been talking about the Wye infrastructure plan for a while now. We're ready to start,” Hagemeier said. “We expect it take about 18 months before the project is finished. Hopefully it really sets a game plan for us on how to do infrastructure at the Wye.”

The county in 2020 declared the area “infrastructure deficient,” enabling it to create a Targeted Economic Development District (TEDD). That permits the county to collect tax increment on new development and apply the revenue toward future infrastructure costs.

On Thursday, the county also contracted Pioneer Technical Services to “serve as a bridge” between the work WGM will be doing and the state, which has its own requirements surrounding TEDD districts.

Hagemeier said the area also lacks a proper road grid, which is needed to support the type of development eyed for the Wye.

“You have road deficiencies,” he said. “We'll be looking at all of that in this planning process.”