An estimated 6,500 new residential units will be built in Missoula County over the next 10 years, according to city planner Garin Wally.
And although there are 33,000 lots suitable for development, many of those have owners who don't want to sell or build. In fact, Wally estimates only about 4,300 are "highly suitable."
That’s why the city and county have come up with a document called "Our Missoula Development Guide: Looking Forward" to guide where and how that growth occurs in an effort to use financial resources efficiently and head off major problems.
The document shows that parts of the Reserve to Russell Corridor and the Brooks Street Corridor, along with parts of the Westside and Northside neighborhoods, are best suited for development. West Broadway, downtown Missoula and East Broadway are also ripe for “inward focusing” development.
“What this basically is, is a 10-year look forward and we’re trying to answer the question of where will we put new development and where should we put that development,” said senior city planner Tom Zavitz.
The city will create several maps in the coming year that show where development can and cannot occur, where there is vacancy and appropriate zoning, and another map showing the most suitable spots for development. Those places would be located near existing infrastructure, services and transit so that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for expensive infrastructure development.
The document utilizes Missoula Growth Policy guidelines such as locating higher-density housing near biking and walking routes, providing incentives for mixed-use development so that residences are near grocery stores and other basic necessities, and discouraging “greenfield” development.
Zavitz and Wally presented the document to the city council’s Land Use and Planning Committee on Wednesday.
“I’ll be curious how we implement this,” said council member Jordan Hess. “What are the areas where we can apply pressure? What are carrots and sticks to shape development where we want it?”
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Hess said he hopes the city and county can avoid “leapfrog greenfield development” that requires expensive extensions of utilities like sewer, water, roads, lighting and sidewalks.
“We want to shape (growth) in a way that creates a financially stable model that develops density that is distributed equitably throughout the community, density that is incrementally distributed.”
The city is calculating which areas surrounding town have the most capacity for more housing and which don’t have much more room.
“We want to identify opportunity on vacant land and identify opportunity on land where the zoning and land use do not align,” Wally explained.
The city has three concepts and identified areas that include one or two or all three: capability, capacity and suitability. Capability is where development can occur. Capacity is how much development can occur based on zoning and current development. Suitability is where development should occur, based on a policy of reducing dependency on both infrastructure costs and automobile use.
“When these three concepts are combined spatially, the result is a tiered ‘Opportunities’ map of suitable capacity for preferred development locations,” Wally wrote in his report. “This map will help guide development to locations supportive of 'Focus Inward' and will assist Missoula in making informed decisions regarding future residential development.”
The two areas that met all three guidelines were the Reserve to Russell Corridor and the South Hills.
Zavitz said although there are lots of vacant or suitable-to-build lots in the county, they could be owned by people who aren’t interested in development for a variety of reasons.
“The numbers are really big as far as available capacity but it’s not all easy to get at and how do we unlock that capacity,” he said. “We don’t need to continue to sprawl. But it’s not so simple as there are 33,000 available spaces.”