How much is 200 feet of dirt path along the Clark Fork worth?

The City of Missoula may soon spend $326,000 to buy a half-acre lot fronting the river to settle an easement disagreement with a local developer who wants to build condos over a short stretch of undeveloped trail.

The land is one of two parcels located between the Creekside Apartments on East Broadway and Hellgate Park. City documents describe the land deal as an “opportunity to complete a key connection” of riverfront trail that extends east along the Clark Fork’s northern shore.

But the proposal to buy the land comes out of a dispute between the city and the land’s current owner, BTW Inc., owned by Missoula developer Brian Walker, over the validity of a trail easement on the property. The dispute emerged after Walker submitted plans to city staff to construct a seven-unit condo project that would impede the path, according to agenda documents provided to Missoula City Council, which reviewed the proposal on June 13.

The city attorney’s office was unable to establish that an easement exists, even though the parcel was created by a Missoula County subdivision in the 1970s that included an easement. Rather than go to court, which city staff wrote would be “costly,” the city drafted a settlement agreement to purchase the land.

Extending the trail corridor in question — the paved portion is known as Ron’s River Trail — is listed as the second-highest-priority project in the city’s Long Range Transportation Plan. It’s currently used by residents to access the 3.8-acre Hellgate Park and could eventually become a transportation route between East Missoula and downtown Missoula.

The settlement agreement requires City Council approval. The purchase would be funded initially by a state loan. The loan would be repaid with revenue from the eventual sale of the property, after open-space funds secure the easement.

City staff write that the city has already received interest from private parties and that the Missoula Housing Authority may be interested in placing an affordable-housing project there.

BTW, Inc., acquired deed to the land in December 2016, according to county property records, and paid $3,690 in property taxes last year. The state land appraisal for tax purposes was $142,000.

The city declined to comment for this story because staff hadn’t officially presented the proposal to the City Council by the time this issue went to press. Walker did not return a call for comment.

Staff Reporter

Staff reporter Derek Brouwer joined the Indy in 2015 after year-long stints covering education at the Billings Gazette and the Helena Independent Record. He graduated from Montana State University. Follow him on Twitter: @derekwbrouwer.

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