Missoula Valley residents question city’s annexation plans for airport area

The city of Missoula plans to annex 3,200 acres, including Missoula International Airport and nearby housing and commercial developments. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Angst is the overwhelming feeling for valley residents most affected by the city’s plan to annex 3,200 acres that include Missoula International Airport, the county’s nearby development park and adjoining properties.

About three dozen people stopped by an open house at the Wingate Hotel on Wednesday evening to talk with city and county representatives and scrutinize maps of the area that will soon lie within the city limits.

The airport annexation project would extend the city limits to the west. It also includes property between the airport and Interstate 90 and a thin slice along Highway 10 on either side of Reserve Street.

Until now, the county owned the property north of the airport and developed it as a tax increment district starting in 1991. It has a similar district at the former Bonner mill site.

The district’s bond extended 15 years, and the county made its last payment on July 2, said Dori Brownlow, Missoula County tax increment director.

“It served its purpose to raise money and create infrastructure,” she said.

The bond’s sunset prompted the city’s move to annex the areas, which was announced in May. One advantage to the city is adding to its tax base.

The city can’t annex if it can’t get more than 50 percent of the affected property owners to sign a petition. But in this case, the city didn’t need to ask some property owners because subdivision developers had waived their right to protest annexation in return for being connected to city water and sewer in the 2000s.

And the airport’s board recently endorsed the annexation, putting the approval over the 50 percent mark without any other landowners’ participation.

Still, many questions remain for those living in the area, including the residents of Canyon Creek Village, which has more than 100 homes.

During the open house, on a board with the heading “Post questions here,” about 20 yellow sticky notes carried the worries and fears of the residents.

“What will we get for a 20 percent increase in taxes?”

“How do we file a lawsuit to stop annexation?”

“What city managers voted for annexation?”

“My homeowners insurance will go up if you close the rural fire station.”

In response to the last question, the city says that the Missoula Fire Department has a better fire insurance rating so rates should actually drop.

But it wasn’t just residents. Donny Ward, manager of Cheap Charlie’s Ministorage, submitted a typed letter with about 10 similar questions.

A few people were concerned about how the change might affect whether their children can attend DeSmet School. Brownlow said she thought it wouldn’t affect the school, but wasn’t sure.

“That’s one of the things we have to figure out,” Brownlow said.

The city would zone the area outside the Canyon Creek Village as either open space – such as the Lalonde Ranch – or commercial and light industrial. But residents who want different designations should let the city know.

Missoula County will retain a few parcels between the development park and Canyon Creek Village because they are still part of a technology tax increment district that hasn’t expired. Other properties south of Highway 10 between Missoula and the airport will also remain with the county because they are undeveloped.

The public can comment on the annexation project until Oct. 30. Information is available at https://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/2403/2018ANX