Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Looking to address a lack of infrastructure around the Wye and foster economic growth, including the addition of workforce housing, Missoula County this week moved one step closer to adopting a new development district both north and south of Interstate 90.

The Consolidated Planning Board recommended approving the new Targeted Economic Development District at the Wye as part of the county’s Comprehensive Development Plan. Doing so aligns with the county’s growth policy and adheres to zoning, said Emily Brock, the county’s director of lands and economic development.

“There are tools to implement the growth policy – zoning is one tool and TEDDs are another,” said Brock. “There’s another planning effort – the Wye infrastructure plan – that’s happening simultaneously. That will be adopted as an amendment to this Comprehensive Development Plan.”

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If adopted by the county, the new Targeted Economic Development District would span around 3,200 acres, with the intersection of Interstate 90 and Highway 93 serving as the bullseye.

The land-use element adopted by the county in 2019 identifies areas around the Wye as neighborhood residential. Among other things, it calls for more than eight dwelling units per acre, along with a blend of commercial and industrial services, and a proper road grid.

But the infrastructure needed to support such development doesn’t yet exist, and the clock may be ticking. A number of landowners north of the Wye are looking to develop their property, but the county hopes to keep large tracts undeveloped until an infrastructure plan is in place.

The Wye west of Missoula. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

The Wye west of Missoula. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)
Infrastructure deficiencies identified by the county include workforce housing, water, sewer, broadband and transportation, among others.

“Because of the infrastructure deficiencies, we can’t see the industrial growth that we’d like to see in the area,” said Brock. “We’re hoping to get this adopted this year, so 2023 is the baseline year. It would sunset in 2038, unless it was extended for up to 15 years based on funding.”

Infrastructure costs and needs

To help fund some of the infrastructure needs, the county in 2020 adopted the first Targeted Economic Development District near the Wye, primarily south of I-90. The new district would expand the original district and is intended to direct tax increment back into the cost of infrastructure.

Brock said the list of infrastructure needs is ambitious and won’t likely be achieved by the county alone. But it could help provide matching funds to federal dollars, as was the case when the county received a $13 million federal BUILD grant to lay infrastructure in the greater Mullan area.

“We’re eligible to use it as a match. It’s truly local dollars,” said Brock. “With almost every federal grant, you need a match. This is the catchall plan for everything that’s eligible for the TEDD. There’s no way we’re going to do everything on this list, but it’s intended that way.”

Along with economic growth, the county’s growth plan for the area includes workforce housing. The Legislature added workforce housing as infrastructure, qualifying it for tax increment.

The infrastructure plan for the Wye will also include transportation. The county already has contracted the WGM Group as a consultant to help develop the Wye’s infrastructure plan.

“The idea is to create a road grid system and map how that grid will be completed,” said senior county planner Karen Hughes. “There’s a partial system in place, but it’s not complete. Figuring out where the main lines need to go and how things will connect and where key intersections are will be part of that process.”

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Gallery Credit: Katherine Gallagher

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