Progress putts on 

Sprawl heads east with golf course proposal

As Missoula continues to sprawl to the west and gain in urban sophistication, it seems to have forgotten about its blue-collar cousin, East Missoula.

That trend may be changing, though. After a three-and-a-half year hiatus, a developer of the long-proposed Canyon River Golf Course say he’s within driving range of starting construction.

Developer Wayne Paffhausen of Butte said that construction of the golf course could begin within two weeks, but declined to comment on anything else, including plans to build a 270-unit subdivision.

Paffhausen’s comment, relayed by a reporter, caught city planners by surprise; they had been under the impression that the proposal remained stalled due to financial woes, as it has been for several years. Planners say that no final plats have been approved.

“There is more work to do before they can start construction,” said David Loomis, a senior planner with Missoula’s Office of Planning and Grants. “We haven’t approved any plans yet. Nobody has come down and given us a comprehensive view of what they want in the project.”

Loomis did acknowledge that approval could occur soon, but he also said that no housing plans have been approved for the site.

When the OPG last saw the proposal, it called for 270 dwellings, an 18-hole golf course, a driving range and construction of ponds on 392 acres, with a connection to the Kim Williams trail.

The physical location of the proposed development is Bandmann Flats, a chunk of abandoned farmland just east of East Missoula on the south side of the Clark Fork River. The grassy benches of the property currently serve as open space and a travel route for every type of large mammal in the region.

Zoned for one dwelling unit per acre, the project meets land use plans only if you look at the density on the entire chunk of land. The proposal calls for 270 houses clustered on 70 acres of land, while the golf course will account for the rest of the land use, according to OPG’s Nancy Heil.

“Overall, it meets the density of the zoning,” Heil said. Construction plans for the golf course call for several holes to be built at river side, while the homes will be set back a bit, in the area of Deer Creek Road. Developers will also tie three looped roadways into Deer Creek Road.

A country-club atmosphere will be a change for East Missoula, where the main entertainment venue is down-home Reno’s Casino. The area remains a relatively affordable location, close to the University and town, with a core group of working-class residents. But that, too, could change as more upscale subdivisions go in, raising property taxes. The removal of the Milltown Dam and the proposed construction of the Two Rivers whitewater park are predicted to drive property values up, as well, and attract a more affluent crowd.

Then, there’s the Canyon River Golf Course.

“We can only grow so close to the airport and the mill with comfort,” said Brent Wahlberg, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Realty Consultants. “We have to look to the east sooner or later. When that golf course goes in, there will be more desirability in that area. It will be a good thing for East Missoula. You might be seeing more money in that area.”

Year-to-date sales in East Missoula, including the Easy Street neighborhood across I-90 from East Missoula proper, averaged $138,200 in 2003 and crept up to $152,500 during the first quarter of 2004, according to the Missoula County Association of Realtors.

In comparison, golf course homes on the west side of Missoula at Phantom Hills tend to run closer to $300,000, Wahlberg said.

Before golfers hit the green in East Missoula, and potentially drive property values up, the golf course needs to mitigate a number of concerns. First it has to comply with the OPG to get off the ground. Then there are neighborhood concerns about affordable housing, water quality, wildlife corridors and traffic.

Currently, the only access to the proposed golf course is the narrow Deer Creek bridge. And the only way to the narrow bridge is through the neighborhood without sidewalks, East Missoula. With an additional 270 families and golf recreationists driving that route, some residents would like to see a Deer Creek connection to Interstate 90.

Neighbor Jack Brown, who lives near the bridge, doesn’t see anything wrong with the development itself, but he’s livid about transportation planning for the project.

“If they would [connect Deer Creek to I-90] I would be for it 100 percent,” Brown said. “Right now I don’t like it at all. They said they would do something with this road before they started.”

Fish, Wildlife & Parks wrote four pages of comment on the proposal in August of 2000. They wanted to make sure that no fish would be stocked in Canyon River ponds, and that the golf course took as many steps as possible to prevent polluting the Clark Fork with pesticides.

“A golf course bordering the Clark Fork River seems ill conceived, considering that local governments and corporations in the Missoula area have spent millions of dollars in the last decade to reduce nutrient and pollutant inputs into the river,” FW&P’s Mack Long wrote. “Golf courses are notorious sources of non-point pollution because of fertilizers and herbicides that are typically applied in high concentrations.”

In other written comments on the proposal, East Missoula’s Crystal Buck said that the land would be perfect for a conservation easement, given its capacity as a migratory route for bears and lions, among other species, between the Rattlesnake and the Sapphires (the only one, according to FW&P).

“I think you will agree this is not the place for an upscale subdivision,” Buck wrote in her comments.

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