Residential development across Missoula and its urban fringe is on the upswing and has trended inward over the past two years, with much of the growth focused on multifamily housing in the Russell Street corridor, a new report says.
Casey Wilson, a planner with the city's Development Services, presented the latest findings of the Urban Fringe Development Area project to the City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee on Wednesday.
Updated every few years, the report tracks trends in local development and helps gauge the city’s progress in slowing urban sprawl by growing inward and placing new housing near existing services.
“Back in 2007, development consistently pressed out to the fringe of town,” Wilson said. “That’s when the city and county – questioning whether it was necessary to keep expanding the sewer service area to accommodate new subdivisions – jointly initiated the project.”
The study area includes 33,080 acres, half of which sit within the city limits. The new report estimates that 40,000 dwelling units lie within the project area, which now includes a population of 88,200 people.
While growth continues at an incremental rate of 1.1 percent when averaged over seven years, it has ticked up during the past two, reaching 1.4 percent in 2013 and 1.3 percent last year.
“We’re seeing an uptick in activity,” said Laval Means, senior planner with Development Services. “It’s not as frantic a pace as it was seven years ago, but it’s increasing at a healthy pace. It’ll help with housing accommodations and affordability in our community.”
Of the 2,727 new housing units built in the past seven years, 1,524 were multifamily dwellings. The past two years have seen 1,062 new housing units built, with roughly 662 of them in multi-unit projects.
“We’re seeing a strong uptick in multi-dwelling construction and that’s a positive sign,” said Means. “We’re also seeing development activity take place on entitled lots. They’re using the subdivisions that were previously approved, and we’re seeing more of that.”
Wilson said no new major subdivisions have been approved in the past two years. But the report found more than 5,800 entitled lots within several existing subdivisions. Only 873 housing units have been built on those lots, meaning many remain open for development.
City planners cited new activity within several of those subdivisions, including East and West Mullan, Miller Creek and Pleasant View. But of the 2,727 new residential units that have opened in the past seven years, 91 percent lie within the city, and many are in the Russell Street corridor.
“There’s a concentration of activity happening close to the urban core,” said Means. “The message that came with the UFDA project was to use existing infrastructure and develop closer to the services we already have, and it seems to be taking hold.”
Ward 3 Councilman Alex Taft agreed, but noted that inward growth in housing hasn’t found its way downtown.
“We’ve focused inward, but not really inward,” Taft said. “It would be fascinating to look at other cities with sustainable growth policies and see what they’re experiencing. We haven’t had a lot of downtown development.”