DNRC looking at options to develop land on Fox Farm Road

A roughly 80 acre property off Fox Farm Road is being considered for development.

The property is currently owned by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and is School Trust Land.

There’s been a concerted effort from the DNRC to address high value parcels that aren’t generating revenue for the school trust, according to Martin Balukas of DNRC.

One of those is the parcel off Fox Farm that is worth an estimated $1.2 million.

DNRC is currently reviewing the classification and future of this piece of land, approximately 80 acres bounded by Fox Farm Road on the west, 45th Avenue Southwest on the south, Grizzly Drive on the north, and the Missouri River and Island View Drive on the east.

fox farm boundary Map-page-001

The property is divided into two lots. The northern portion of the parcel is roughly 43 acres with 1,500 feet of Missouri River frontage. The southern portion is about 39 acres with no river frontage.

The property is surrounded primarily by residential development.

The property is currently vacant other than a radio communications tower on the southern end that is under a commercial lease and generating about $3,000 annually for the Montana School Trust Land program.

The rest is “basically used to walk dogs,” Balukas said.

The mandate for school trust lands is that the properties make money for the school trust. The property on Fox Farm benefits the University of Montana, Balukas said.

Since the property isn’t generating anything near its value, DNRC is looking at options to add conservation options, develop or sell a portion of the land.

The department operated under a real estate management plan, which says one of the DNRC commitments is to follow local zoning, though it’s not legally required, Balukas said.

Conservation options are considered first, but if none are proposed through a letter of intent, commercial, residential or industrial development will be considered. No matter the proposed use, the department is required to get fair market value for the land.

Balukas said DNRC will work with the community to develop conservation options if there’s interest from local groups or individuals. There’s a strict timeline for that process, but Balukas said that clock hasn’t started yet.

The DNRC might be able to work out a deal that incorporates both conservation and development, depending on proposals, he said.

The north half can’t be sold because of the river frontage, but it could be exchanged for a parcel that is equal or more valuable. That has been interpreted to mean equal or more riverfront on a similar river, Balukas said. Past experience has shown there’s a high bar for such a trade.

Balukas said DNRC will seek a future for the property that “provides income to the trust beneficiaries in concert with the values and character of the neighborhood.”

Balukas has been visiting Neighborhood Council meetings to keep the area residents updated on the process and he said he was asked whether a slaughterhouse could go on the property.

“Frankly, the answer is no,” he said. “It would not fit zoning or the character of the neighborhood.”

Currently, DNRC is under contract for geotechnical testing to determine whether there are problematic clay soils on the parcel, Balukas said.

The north line is the city-county boundary with major utilities stubbed at this line. The property is currently in the county.

The state received land to the north and east of the property and sold those parcels around 1920. Those areas are now residential.

DNRC staff identified the tract as having significant development potential about 10 years ago and held a public meeting to gauge interest. At that time, a group of local landowners emerged who were interested in maintaining the parcel as open space, but a formal proposal never materialized and the entire project fell by the wayside, according to DNRC.

DNRC staff met recently with city and county planning staff, as well as local economic development representatives, to determine the highest and best use; demand and growth; development trends; and growth plans for the area.

City and county officials characterize the area as residential and high density multi-family housing may be acceptable, but single family residential is the primary planning direction. New open space and parks aren’t a high priority for the city or county since they are costly to maintain and the city recently adopted a $1.5 million annual park district assessment to catch up on an estimated $12 million worth of deferred maintenance in city parks.

DNRC shared information about the process during Feb. 13 and April 10 meetings of Neighborhood Council 1 with about 70 neighborhood residents attended the meetings and expressed interest in maintaining some portion of the trust land as open space or park land.

Balukas said he plans to continue attending those meetings periodically to keep neighbors up to date on the process.

“People can participate in the planning process,” Balukas said.

There are several DNRC properties that are generating revenue for the school trust through commercial leases, such as the Cabela’s in Kalispell and other parcels in Bozeman, Balukas said.

In Great Falls, the Hampton Inn sits on DNRC property and generates revenue for the trust through a commercial lease and Balukas said the department is looking at more development in that area.

Commercial leases are available for up to 99 years and are subject to a competitive bid process. All trust land sales are subject to public auction and Land Board approval, according to DNRC.

Got questions, proposals or comments? Send them to Martin Balukas by phone 458-3502 or email: mbalukas@mt.gov.