Missoula is growing rapidly these days, and neighborhoods west of Reserve Street and north of Mullan Road are feeling a disproportionate impact. The decisions we make in the next decade will shape this part of Missoula. We owe it to future generations to carefully balance quality of life, safe and expedient transportation, open spaces and affordable housing — some of which are competing values.

For 10 years I worked for the Office of Planning and Grants, focusing on land use and transportation planning. I have a masters degree in urban planning. As the city councilor currently representing Ward 2, I believe that my education and experience are valuable tools that will help shape the future of this area.

Many areas of Missoula are already built-out. Neighborhoods west of Reserve Street and north of Mullan Road have some of the few remaining large open tracts. Unless the land is located in a flood plain or is dedicated open space, property owners have no obligation to simply maintain a field and never build on it. However, local governments have tools to ensure that the development considers our health, safety and welfare. We must develop adequate infrastructure, efficient transportation systems, and thoughtful zoning regulations to guide development.

Our transportation network in this area is lacking. An archaic road network originally designed for an agricultural area was not designed for dense development. City of Missoula and county officials have again applied for a BUILD grant to address the problem. Last year, out of hundreds of applications, Missoula was 14th in priority — BUILD Grants were awarded to the top 11. This year we have reapplied. A BUILD Grant would provide $23 million to support improvements to the transportation grid in the Mullan Road area. Connecting George Elmer Drive and Mary Jane Boulevard with Broadway Street and Mullan Road will decrease pressure on Reserve Street. The county estimated that this improvement will result in 2.7 million fewer hours of annual delays.

What will housing look like in this area? Projections suggest hundreds more housing units north of Mullan Road and west of Reserve Street. In this era, a full spectrum of housing opportunities is the best practice. Single-family homes, condominiums, townhomes, apartments — all are needed in Missoula, and these options will help provide a diverse inventory for people of all income levels. Not only does this help to stabilize housing prices, but well-designed projects create community-oriented living environments (mixed use developments). Thoughtful and intentionally planned developments create positive interactions and connections among residents, rather than isolation. Well-planned developments with pleasing aesthetics, proper transportation infrastructure, trees and adequate parks create neighborhoods.

To help achieve this vision, I have advocated for a joint city-county planning effort to create a master plan for this area. By including a meaningful public process, and then thoughtfully analyzing and studying how best to develop, we can realize this vision for the new Missoula that is coming. Residents in the area, as well as developers and land owners, will be able to understand what the future looks like in the Mullan Road-Reserve Street area.

I firmly believe that good development does not happen by accident. The experience, education and expertise I bring to the City Council will continue to help guide this process as Ward 2 develops further. We are lucky to live in such a beautiful and special place. Let’s keep it that way for our children and their families.

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Mirtha Becerra is running for re-election to the Missoula City Council representing Ward 2. 

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