The Missoula Consolidated Planning Board this week agreed to rezone a small parcel of property on 34th Street to enable Missoula Federal Credit Union to purchase the land from a church for the future expansion of its commercial campus.
The planning board also voted to change the land use designation from residential to neighborhood commercial in the city’s growth policy, marking the first time an amendment has been made to the policy for a single parcel of land.
The recommended changes must be reviewed and approved by the City Council.
“To facilitate a boundary line relocation to move the boundary to the eastern edge of that land requires rezoning, which can’t be done until the growth policy takes place and is changed,” said city planner Andrew Boughan. “This will be the first one and probably won’t be the last.”
The 29,000-square-foot parcel, located at 2205 34th St., is owned by Atonement Lutheran Church. Missoula Federal Credit Union is seeking an adjustment to the boundary line in order to purchase the property.
The bank said the amendment would enable “future expansion of the Missoula Federal Credit Union site and ensures the viability of the current commercial business.” That would likely include expanded parking.
“It’s the intention of MFCU to purchase the property from Atonement Lutheran Church to expand the campus,” said Boughan. “This location meets all the criteria and allows for the reuse of a vacant parcel in the (city) core where existing infrastructure is present.”
The one-block stretch of 34th Street abuts residential housing and has undergone a number of changes in recent years. Despite neighborhood opposition, the City Council two years ago approved a conditional use request to replace the former Howard Johnson Inn with Metro Express Car Wash.
With the planning board’s approval, the council will now consider whether to amend its 2035 growth policy and rezone the property as requested by the bank. Both issues passed the planning board, but not with unanimous approval.
“This seems like a straightforward logical thing, but I have to comment that it does seem that it’s starting to chip away at things,” said board member Stephanie Potts of the changes to the growth policy. “There’s always going to be a border for a growth policy, and there’s always going to be a place where commercial meets neighborhood. I don’t know if there’s a public need for this change.”
Missoula resident Matt Joseph also opposed the changes. He has lived behind the lot in question for 27 years.
“That vacant lot is used by a lot of the neighborhood for dog walks, kids playing, picnicking,” he said. “I’m opposed to expanding the rezoning just to allow for more parking when it buffers the residential areas. Pretty soon you’re going to encroach upon that all along that corridor and I’m concerned this is the first step in that direction.”