Downtown: Design standards important for Missoula’s future

Missoulians care about their community. They appreciate the natural environment, as well as the built environment, and some fear Missoula will lose its unique character if we continue to allow formula architecture to take hold on new development.

In an effort to ensure Missoula continues to be a special place that cares about its character, the city of Missoula has hired a consultant who specializes in design guidelines and standards to lead our community through a comprehensive planning process to establish standards for new and renovated buildings in Missoula.

Winter & Company was in Missoula for a workshop in February 2016 that set the stage for a more formal and robust planning process that started with the first public workshop in May 2017. Last week, they were back in town for another public workshop and stakeholder meetings.  The purpose of the last workshop was to introduce the community to a draft Strategy Report that identifies objectives and outlines recommendations for how to proceed into developing the specific tools.  

As a result of this planning process, Missoulians have identified 10 objectives as priorities for the built environment:

  1. Respect and build on previous plans.
  2. Understand that our community identity and quality of life are impacted by the built environment.
  3. The bar should be raised for quality design.
  4. Context matters.
  5. Maintain flexibility.
  6. Encourage creativity and diversity.
  7. Fundamental design principles are important.
  8. Respect and embrace the natural environment.
  9. Building design should support walkability, cycling and transit services.
  10. Recognize and acknowledge market constraints.   

These objectives set the stage for the creation of design standards for downtown and commercial corridors throughout Missoula.  The Strategy Report proposes breaking the commercial corridors and downtown into separate areas and developing design standards and guidelines for each area in the form of zoning overlays.

The most critical design considerations for the commercial corridors include the level of pedestrian activity, street edge character, parking location, building types, building size, and development mass and scale. Additional topics include the role of neighborhood nodes and transitions from large commercial properties and corridors to adjacent residential properties and neighborhoods.

Key design considerations for downtown Missoula include street level interest, compatibility with traditional character, street edge character, building size and building materials.  

Linda McCarthy

We’re about halfway through the planning process, and city staff are targeting May 2018 for final approval. Winter and Company will be back in town in December or January to present a draft of standards. In the meantime, all Missoulians are encouraged to review the proposed strategies and provide input before Friday, October 13. All documents have been posted online at www.missouladesignexcellence.org, and folks can submit comments in writing to design@ci.missoula.mt.us.

The final design standards for Missoula will define the future of development in our community. Engagement and input at this point are critical to ensuring the built environment sustains Missoula’s unique character. After all, Missoula is not Anywhere, USA.

Linda McCarthy is the executive director of the Missoula Downtown Partnership, a collaboration of the Missoula Downtown Association, the Business Improvement District and the Missoula Downtown Foundation.