Missoula City Council stockimage

Missoula City Council Chambers.

Looking to add a few more acres to its already extensive open space and conserved lands Monday night, the Missoula City Council approved a hearing for 50 more acres near the Bitterroot River.

The land is owned by the Western Montana Retriever Club, located by Linda Vista golf course.

“The property has a colorful history,” said Sarah Richey, Five Valleys Land Trust project manager. “At one point it was a gravel pit.”

The gravelly area lent itself to holding ponds and marshy lands as the rock was removed, Richey said, turning much of the 50 acres into lush wetlands along the edge of the Bitterroot River.

More than 15 species of birds can be found nesting on the land as well as two rare native plants: toothcup and Columbia water-meal.

Seven acres of the plot were donated in 1989, according to Richey. The deal up for approval will add 43 more acres to that easement.

“They’ve had long-held goals to see this property protected,” Richey said.

Residential development won’t be allowed on the property, as per terms of the conservation agreement, although barns, shed or garages may be allowed in certain small areas.

Elizabeth Erickson, open space acquisitions attorney, is asking for up to $12,000 from the city’s 2006 Open Space Bond funds for the easement, though transaction costs will total about $10,850.

More than half, about $7,000, will go into a savings account to cover ongoing stewardship costs for the property, such as legal defense if the conservation agreement is broken.

The land, although a city-funded conservation easement, will remain closed to public access, though Richey said the club has a good record of allowing birdwatchers and classrooms of students onto the land.

“It’s a pretty small pool of folks,” Ward 6 representative Michelle Cares said, adding, “Elizabeth and I spoke about how she often thinks about the amount of money going toward a project in relation to the public good and, in that respect, this project is in line.”

Bond spending has to be approved by the County Commissioners as well, who will join the council June 26 to vote on the easement.

If approved, the city would be left with just over $490,000 in its open space bond account.

The council also approved a day care center at 2200 S 10th St. W., after members spent more than an hour discussing parking, sidewalk and fencing around the side of the yard near an irrigation ditch.

Council members asked for every variation of parking options that could be put in front of the building, which will house a second location for Camp Fire, an after-school and summer camp club.

An amendment was approved for fencing along the ditch, with support from the business owner.

“Melding businesses into neighborhoods is an art,” Ward 5 representative Julie Armstrong said. “You have to be a good neighbor.”

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City, County Government Reporter

Government reporter for the Missoulian.