Public comments on big plans for mill site

Article from Missoulian – to read full article click HERE

Big projects often mean big protests at Missoula City Council meetings.

A plan to create an urban village with a mixture of housing and commercial development at the old Champion mill site was big – but protesters didn’t seem to be flocking to the microphone Monday night during council’s regular meeting.

Council members considered what is technically a zoning request for the 46-acre property, and they were still hearing public comment as of press time.

The first few members of the public offered mostly support for the project, which would include some 520 residential units and room for more.

One factor neighbors don’t care much for is the height proposed for the area’s tallest building. Developers want to allow that building to be 100 feet tall if necessary. They don’t always talk about height in a straightforward way, though, and one member of the public pointed out the euphemism.

“I hate the phrase ‘enhanced vertical opportunity,’ ” said Jonathan Qualben.

Qualben, however, said he supports mixed use.

Jennifer Anthony, with the Riverfront Neighborhood Council, said she was waffling on the height allowance. Otherwise, though, she liked the plans.

“I really support this project. I think it’s wonderful,” Anthony said.

Robert Doore, with the Missoula Organization of Realtors, said the city has a supply and demand problem with housing. Working-class people need places to live in town – and he believes this development can help because of its density.

Whitney Gaskill, who moved to the Garden City from Colorado Springs, Colo., said Missoula has the opportunity to plan for development. And she believes the proposal on the table is an innovative model – in part because it includes density.

Another neighbor, however, said traffic would be disrupted in outlying neighborhoods.

Height seemed to be the main concern, and neighbors generally have preferred a recommendation from the Office of Planning and Grants that the tallest structure max out at 55 feet or five stories.

Developers, however, have said the project needs height to pencil out and the scarcity of land means growth needs to go up. They asked council to consider Missoula’s needs 50 years from now, too.

The plan is complex and involves various entities, both private and public. Early on in the evening, representatives from different organizations praised the work invested in the project and results so far.

“This is a huge opportunity for this community,” said Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Ellen Buchanan.