The Missoula City Council approved Monday two new urban renewal districts – one in the North Reserve area and one along East Broadway.
“Why do urban renewal? There are places in our community that are growing faster than others. There are places that have issues,” said Chris Behan, assistant director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.
The council voted 9-1 to approve the Hellgate district, with Councilman Adam Hertz in opposition. Hertz, who voted yes to the North Reserve district, said he considers tax increment districts a valuable tool, but he believes a project already in the works will catalyze development on its own on Broadway.
“I’ve had some concerns about the Hellgate urban renewal district because I think the incentive in this area is going to be built soon, and that’s Missoula College,” Hertz said.
The Hellgate district along East Broadway is generally identified as Madison Street to the west, Interstate 90 to the north, the University of Montana and Kim Williams Trail to the south, and beyond the Park and Ride to the east.
A member of the public also raised a concern about the Hellgate district. Sandy Boehmler said her family owns a rental property in the area, and it’s inexpensive and rented by people with physical and mental disabilities.
“Keep in mind that what’s blight to one person may be affordable housing to somebody else,” Boehmler said.
Councilman Jordan Hess, though, said tax increment districts are the best tool local governments have to help bring about economic development. For a set number of years, tax revenue from a district that’s above a baseline level goes back into the district itself.
“Frankly, I’m proud of what MRA has done,” Hess said of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. “I think they’ve done fantastic work throughout the community.”
Council members voted unanimously to approve the North Reserve district. It’s generally bounded by Interstate 90 to the north, the Montana Rail Link railroad to the south, North Reserve Street to the west, and Scott Street to the east.
It includes the White Pine Sash state Superfund site on Scott Street and many other empty lots. Assistant director Behan, though, said urban renewal funds can help with blight that isn’t as obvious, too.
“The transportation system here is woefully inadequate,” Behan said.
At the meeting, the council also voted to set the special district levies for parks and roads this year. Councilors Hertz and Jon Wilkins opposed them.
“These special districts, there’s no control on them. That’s my biggest worry,” Wilkins said.
Councilwoman Marilyn Marler said she had opposed the last minute addition of $200,000 to the road district for sidewalks despite her strong support for sidewalks in general. The infusion was approved despite her opposition, she said, and she wanted to back the overall budget effort.
“I’ll vote for it tonight, and we’ll get work done for the city,” Marler said.