The (Former) Mullan Area Master Plan Gets a Green Light

User Profile Image
Maggie Collister

The (Former) Mullan Area Master Plan Gets a Green Light

The (Former) Mullan Area Master Plan Gets a Green Light

Which Articles Got The Highest Engagement in 2020 – And What Does That Mean For Commercial Development?

Up first, our most-commented-on article in 2020. It’s a peek into the future of the Sx͏ʷtpqyen, (pronounced Sooh-tup-CANE) Neighborhoods Area Master Plan. The plan was formerly known as the Mullan Area Master Plan. 

It’s a good time to update, as the Missoula City Council just approved the Master Plan in a unanimous vote this week.

Approval included an ordinance that established form based code for the and updated the plan name to better reflect the cultural significance and history of the place.

In conjunction with the BUILD Project, the Master Plan lays out a framework for development in the 1800 acres on Mullan Road, just west of Reserve Street in Missoula. 

But why do we need this framework?

If we build more housing, aren’t we just encouraging more people to move here and densify our little slice of paradise?

While that might be the simple answer, the reality is that Montana has been growing rapidly for several years. It’s now a question of how to appropriately manage development to meet the demands of a rising population. 

“The city and county are not proposing this plan so this area can be developed. The plan is being proposed because this area…is developing and there are issues like traffic, stormwater management, agriculture, and character of the area that need to be addressed.” – Missoula City/County Response to Public Comment on Master Plan

Instead of managing new development in the area piece by piece, the Master Plan is one consistent set of rules and regulations for every development in the area. This is known as form based code. 

Alderperson Gwen Jones noted that form based code is, “The next generation of zoning.” She recognized that while form based code has a learning curve, “it’s actually a much faster, simpler process. That’s something we’ve been hearing from the development community for years. That simpler, faster is better and helps get housing built and helps keep costs down.” 

What Does This Mean for Commercial Development?

You can find our original take on this project from April 2020 here. While some parts of the plan have shifted based on public comments and continued planning, some elements that still apply for commercial developers. 

  • The intensive commercial development called for in the Mullan Area Master Plan requires an experienced development team. This is different than the single use development that we typically see in Missoula.
  • These types of communities can create strong returns for investors while at the same time providing a community-focused environment.
  • Connecting neighborhoods through roads, transit and greenways prepares new market areas for commercial development. That includes mixed use projects and retail centers.
  • This style of new urbanism is popular around the country, creating desirable communities and promoting walkable lifestyles. 
  • Though much of the land is slated for residential use, there are many opportunities for commercial development and investment.
  • One notable feature of the plan is the emphasis on vertical mixed use. Mixed use development — done right — is highly marketable to both residential and commercial 
  • That said, the type of mixed use being illustrated in this plan can be complicated to build. Apartments can be fully leased up while ground floor retail sits vacant. Living above a hot, new restaurant may be a dream until mid June when the dumpster starts to smell. Shared parking can also be a challenge. 
  • Mixed use projects often look amazing in an illustration but can be a challenge to execute well. Careful attention to design details, realistic pro-formas and development timelines can help make these types of projects go much more smoothly. 

So, what’s next for Mullan?

The BUILD Grant continues to make progress in design and pre-construction as the pressure for housing mounts. We’ll keep tracking the development across Missoula and the Sx͏ʷtpqyen neighborhoods. Stay tuned for a deeper dive on form based code. 

For your next commercial or apartment investment project in Missoula, Kalispell or Bozeman, you’re invited to contact one of our advisors here.


Matt Mellott
Matt Mellott, CCIM/SIOR

The (Former) Mullan Area Master Plan Gets a Green Light