The University of Montana will continue to sharpen its South Campus building plans to meet the concerns of surrounding homeowners, school officials told a roomful of residents Wednesday night.
Addressing roughly 100 people who live in the University District and Lewis and Clark neighborhoods, UM President Royce Engstrom said the school will continue working to be a good neighbor as it fleshes out its South Campus design.
“I really want UM to be viewed as a good neighbor,” Engstrom told a patient audience. “I don’t want that to deteriorate.”
The university’s South Campus, located several blocks from the main campus, is the preferred location for the school’s future growth.
A new Missoula College would be the first academic facility built at the location once funding from the Legislature is secured.
“The South Campus represents the most viable option that we currently have on the table,” Engstrom said. “It represents the best and maybe the only viable option in the long run for the growth of UM.”
Engstrom addressed a series of questions submitted by the neighborhood councils, including those relating to past plans, some of which reach back nearly a decade to another administration.
He addressed a 2002 study that looked at remaining building sites on the main campus, and a 2004 plan that focused on UM property at Fort Missoula.
While some continue to argue that Fort Missoula makes a better location for Missoula Collage, Engstrom said that planners believe otherwise. The concept for a hydrogen futures park at Fort Missoula fizzled when hydrogen flopped as a viable energy source, he added.
“The conclusion of that plan was that the site (Fort Missoula) wasn’t a good location for the College of Technology for a variety of reasons,” Engstrom said. “The university doesn’t own enough suitable land to build what they need.”
As a result, the South Campus emerged as the preferred location. The current master plan was developed by a committee, including members of the surrounding neighborhoods, and was approved by the Board of Regents in 2007.
The Legislature that year appropriated $500,000 to develop a site plan for the South Campus. Engstrom said the results of that plan remain the university’s top proposal, though the final design of the property remains open to community input.
“The South Campus Master Plan is a very comprehensive view of how that land would be developed, and it has served as a guide for future thinking,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re done with that plan. In fact, there’s much work to do in terms of traffic and parking and things of that nature.”
Questions submitted by residents covered a variety of topics, including parking and traffic. They asked what role the university would play in mitigating problems related to congestion, and what steps the school and the city would take to ensure property values don't decline as the campus fills in.
Several questions also looked at green space and how the South Campus addresses the need to preserve it. The current plan, officials said, is designed with green space in mind.
Of the 210 acres owned by the university, roughly 21 percent would be dedicated to open space. Officials said the plan includes 35 acres of “high quality” open space with an additional 10 acres of pocketed open space.
The plan also looks at the need for additional student housing. Joined by city officials, Engstrom said UM is in the early stages of looking at public-private partnerships to address overcrowding.
“The South Campus Master Plan does address housing in a significant way,” Engstrom said. “We have also been in discussion with Mayor (John) Engen about public-private partnerships to put in place student housing in and around the area.”
One potential site sits across the Clark Fork River near downtown on eight acres of land near the Montana Technology Enterprise Center. Engstrom said such projects could help relieve rental pressure on the neighborhoods and, if successful, other projects could follow.
“Our street has gone from single family to rentals that house five or more students,” said Shirley Hyndman. “It’s changed the whole flavor of the area. You can walk down the street and just pick out the rentals. Everyone else takes pride in their house, in their yards.”
During a breakout session among residents and other community members, homeowners said housing, parking and congestion were top concerns.
While the South Campus will likely move forward as UM grows with Missoula, residents hope to work closely with school officials in seeking a solution to neighborhood concerns.
“I’m optimistic about the parking, but it’s going to take a lot of extra effort on the university’s part, which we haven’t seen in the last couple decades,” said Dave Chrismon, head of the leadership team for the University District Neighborhood Council.
Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, firstname.lastname@example.org or @martinkidston.