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City of Missoula

A Missoula riverfront condo development with a 75-spot underground parking garage is in the works for the University District.

The Missoula City Council public works committee heard from developers working on the project Wednesday. If the council approves a rezone, the project on South Fourth Street East would see multiple houses demolished in favor of 40 to 48 condos.

Jeff Smith, a project engineer at WGM Group, presented the plans to the committee along with a request the city vacate right-of-way for parking and construction. In turn, the developers would build a new walking trail to connect Ronald Avenue to Fourth Street, which borders the Clark Fork Natural Prairie park access to the river trail.

“The intent is to create a residential project that fits within the character of the University District,” Smith said. “That’s really important to the applicant. That’s why we’ve got MMW Architects involved in this project, and reuse of the brick and stone from the deconstruction is really important for what we’re doing.”

Council member Heidi West asked about the possibility of including any affordable housing units in the project, but the engineer said the cost of land so close to downtown and the university made it hard to charge an affordable price for the condos.

Smith said the development would probably be about 25% rental units, with the rest sold as condos, and all of them priced at market rates.

"(The developers) are targeting empty-nesters looking to downsize from single family homes into a downtown setting," he said. "This demographic is an important customer base for existing downtown restaurants, shops and services, and it furthers the ‘focus inward’ goals of the city’s growth policy."

Smith said the parking garage would be accessed from Fourth Street and would include about 75 spots based on preliminary plans.

Councilors Jordan Hess and Heather Harp both said that including that many parking spots may be excessive based on the location and target buyers, who may drive less than average. They suggested less parking could save cost and make the units more affordable.

Some council members expressed reservations about the type of trail the developers were proposing at the end of Ronald Avenue, which currently dead-ends at the alley between Fifth and Fourth.

Councilor and committee chair Mirtha Becerra said that when giving up city right-of-way, the council should take advantage of the opportunity to get something useful out of it.

“It’s important that we get the most for the public benefit as possible,” Becerra said. “This is what gives us that leverage to work with.”

The council members present for the meeting moved forward the right-of-way vacation, putting it up for a public hearing on Dec. 16, when a rezoning for the properties would also be on the table. 

Gwen Jones, one of the council members representing the University District, said the zoning changes to allow for the high-density project wouldn't be out of line with the intent of the special University District zoning regulations, which she said were set up to prevent decreasing housing density, not to prevent high-density projects.

Jones also said later in the approval process, the council should seek to prevent the condos from being used as short-term rentals, but be prioritized for increasing housing options for people living in Missoula.

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