Some Observations on Land Development and Profit

by jhwygirl

Seems the County Commissioner’s unanimously denied a secondly attempted subdivision near Clearwater Junction in the Blanchard Creek area.

The first attempt was 119 lots on 202 acres – this most recent 59 lots on the same.

Now, a ‘kudos’ has to go out to the fairly new Rural Initiatives division of Office of Planning & Grants. With the addition of wildlife biologist Vickie Edwards, the review of natural resource impacts and wildlife issues stands on much firmer ground with the input of someone with training and expertise. And the affects are seen with this denial.

The proposed development – the applicant is still contemplating another try – has 5 threatened or endangered species within a 5-mile radius of its location.

The developer’s solution to this was to build an 8-foot electrified wall around the development.

Nice. Welcome to the neighborhood, I guess.

Now, aside from that and other issues (like that which this summer’s Jocko Lake fire brings to mind, density so far from services, and that little thing called “fire protection”), I began to ponder this today: There are those (see here and here for some discussion in that regards) who slam any mention of inclusionary housing as a solution to the affordable housing problem facing people making up to and slightly beyond the median income here in Missoula (and other parts of this state). They defending the developer’s right to make any darn amount of profit that they may – regardless of how much.

I believe, on the other hand, that:

(#1) Taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing development through reduced permitting fees for subdivision.

(#2) Affordable housing provides economic stability which benefits the whole community.

(#3) That accepting the concept that taxpayers should subsidize development while decrying the idea that developers should be required to sell a small percentage of their homes at prices that are affordable to people who make 80 – 100% of the median income is absurd.

And finally, (#4) Location, Location, Location: Missoula isn’t going to see anything more than a small “pop” in the housing market bubble. Real small. That is a fact (you can google that for yourself), same as has been exhibited in other places like Aspen, Vail, Whitefish, Jackson Hole. The natural amenities, combined with unnatural amenities (like airports, highways, localized infrastructure and shopping and entertainment) will continue to be driving forces in the housing market far more than any economic downturns in the housing industry.

So while others seem to want to ignore the problem at hand (or at least cover their ears and sing “la, la, la, la, la”) and champion the right-to-profit of the almighty developer, I have to question how much profit is enough profit.

Especially when a developer can first propose 119 lots. Then 59 lots. And then contemplate even another submittal, with presumably even less lots.

And I seriously doubt that the lot prices more than doubled. Market is what market it – his lot prices were undoubtedly based on size of the lots, not cost-profit margins.


  1. Your point that a fully-functioning community must have housing for a broad range of economic levels seems entirely correct to me. I wonder why developers do not choose to build with a variety of housing sizes and qualities, priced accordingly. Are there zoning laws prohibiting this, or does it just not fit into their current paradigm? Maybe the market isn’t there for it.

    If the only way to make this happen is to enforce inclusionary zoning, then I suppose that must happen. I still have some misgivings about messing with the market values of real estate too much. What would prevent speculators from buying artificially lower and selling it later for their own profit? If reselling for profit is prohibited, then isn’t one of the purposes of home-ownership thwarted. Also, I wonder whether imposing such regulations would discourage developers from building enough houses or apartments to meet our needs.

    I do agree with you that something needs to happen. And maybe this is the only way.

  2. hey from downtown missoula!

    i keep looking down the road, wondering where we’re gonna plant our veggies if we keep having to build more housing. people are just gonna have to quit reproducing. we’re running out of room.

    i see one way to make housing affordable for everyone. don’t approve plans for large homes…why not force these developers to build very small homes…say, under 800 sq feet? smaller homes cost less, and should sell for less.

    a family of two can live quite nicely in an apartment 600 sq feet large – a family of 3 will do fine in 800.

    i think it’s time to stop building those ugly monstrosities like they’re putting up on Dean Stone and in Miller Creek. ICK.

    who the hell needs 5000 sq feet of house?? talk about a heavy foot print. can you imagine how much fossil fuel those folks are wasting keeping such a place lighted and warm?

    it’s time to go small.

  3. Welcome Daniel! (for those of you who have yet to encounter it, Danielis the author of Discovering Urbanism, a thoughtfully written blog exploring the world we know as Missoula. He has some fabulous thoughts and observations over there – I encourage everyone to stop on by…)

    You know, it would be wonderful if developers would build in a variety of styles and sizes – but Americans seem to love huge starter homes nowadays – 3 bedroom 2 1/2 bath 1800 square feet. That, to me, seems a bit excessive, but obviously there is a market.

    With that comes the need for more land – and when the land is surrounded by amenities such as the Lolo National Forest and the Rattlesnake Wilderness and a major university there’s a good bit of attraction. The old adage Location Location Location could not hold truer as an influence on price and demand.

    Zoning regulations could be written to encourage smaller homes on smaller lots – and truthfully, most of the lots in Missoula, platted back in the mid to late 1880’s and are 25 x 125 feet in size and in that range – but neighbors don’t (didn’t) like people building on platted lots and that has been part of the large debate going on here for the last 5 years or so.

    Oddly, the same people that are soooo unsupportive of zoning actually championed zoning regulations over individual property rights to decry the rights of those property owners who wished to build on platted lots.

    I do think that particular problem – people building on 25 x 125 foot lots – was exasperated by the quest for large homes, the resulting structures that were taller than the neighborhood and took up the whole footprint of the lot (save the 20 foot front setback), and the historic patterns of the neighborhoods that had one home built on 3 or 4 or 5 lots.

    As older folks retired, they sold off a lot or two…you get the story.

    The City is currently attempting a re-write of the zoning regs. If I’ve understood some of the discussion, one of the things being explored is looking at the current minimum lot sizes, setbacks and height limitations. So theoretically, after analysis, we might end up in some areas with smaller minimum lot sizes.

    I would hope, if they are going to do that, and I do think that would be a good thing in many areas, that they also look at regulations that don’t create situations where we loose our green space on individual lots. It is part of the historic pattern that makes Missoula’s neighborhoods so attractive.

    Some places have impervious surface regulations in with the zoning. Those require a certain amount of unpaved and unbuilt area on each lot. This means vegetation. It means that there is less stormwater run-off. It means less heat. Lots of things.

    I think it could more acceptably allow smaller lots to be built while ensuring that they don’t detract from the historic patterns of the neighborhoods – resulting in smaller homes and a wider variety of housing products.

    One thought, I guess.

  4. Ayn Rand

    Why not allow pre-manufactured housing inside the city limits! A nice sized new home could be had for around 60 to 80K and a lot for 60 to 80 K. That would put the price in reach of more lower income folks!! Unfortunatelyl there are many nibys out there.

    Also, if catnapping will give up he/she/it’s address, maybe we could see if that place needs to be torn down. It may be out of compliance.

  5. There is nothing that prohibits pre-manufactured housing inside city limits.

    So I guess that solution is out Ayn.

  6. Ayn Rand

    BTW, I noticed no one has asked the God Father of liberalism here in Missoula, Pete Talbot, how many affordable homes and inclusionary zoning requests he will allow in his developement up the Rattlesnake. He might just say what Kendall likes to say…just suck it up!

  1. 1 Yet Another Reason for County-Wide Zoning in Missoula « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] the serendipity of it all. The other day, when I posted A Case for County-Wide Zoning, a few hours later, in my inbox, came copy of papers filed by John Richards in Montana’s […]

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