City to purchase, resell property to secure trail easement along Clark Fork River

Under the agreement, approved Wednesday by the City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee, the city will purchase the parcel for $326,000 using interim financing.

In order to obtain a key trail easement, the city of Missoula plans to purchase a small parcel of land along the Clark Fork River and resell it to a local developer or housing agency.

The narrow parcel, located adjacent to Creekside Apartments on East Broadway, was initially purchased by a private developer who planned to build a seven-unit condominium development on the site, but with no room for the riverside trail.

The city believes the property has a preexisting trail easement, though the developer disagrees.

“It was clear it was going to take a court action to figure out if there was an easement and where it would be,” said city CAO Dale Bickell. “In order to avoid potential litigation and going to court to figure out this easement, and the risk associated with that to the city and the developer, we came to a solution where we’d acquire the property.”

Under the agreement, approved Wednesday by the City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee, the city will purchase the parcel for $326,000 using interim financing.

Funding from the Open Space bond will be used to acquire the trail easement while the remaining funds would be recovered from the property’s eventual sale.

“This is the recommendation we came up with after a long period of time,” said Bickell. “We’ve been talking to some private folks and low-income housing agencies interested in this parcel. We think we have a good working solution.”

The property sits at a pinch between the Clark Fork River and East Broadway and currently serves as an interruption in the riverfront trail. While it’s just a small piece in city’s larger trail system, securing it for future use remains key to the city’s goals.

Donna Gaukler, director of Parks and Recreation, said a pedestrian bridge is planned between Missoula College and the University of Montana campus, and future redevelopment of other riverside properties will help complete the trail network on that side of the river.

“Sometimes trail connections take a very long time,” Gaukler said. “It’s one of those things, if you don’t put the trail in place, we never get it in place. We’ve always waited for opportunity, and opportunity tends to avail itself easier if we have other pieces in place.”

The committee approved the acquisition on a 10-1 vote, with Jesse Ramos voting no.

“Why does it have to be the city that makes this purchase?” Ramos said. “The city has a lot of roles right now, and I don’t like the city taking on the role of being a land baron right now.”

Other members called the purchase and resale a good move.

“The importance of this connection along that stretch is obvious,” said council member Bryan von Lossberg. “As we look at growth in East Missoula and those areas, the importance of these connections get magnified. I’m pleased we’re dealing with this in advance of a situation where there’s construction on the site that precludes the trail’s completion.”