Helena City Commission approves permit for Red Alder affordable housing project

Posted at 10:21 PM, May 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-07 00:21:33-04

(HELENA) The Helena City Commission has approved a conditional use permit that will allow a multi-family affordable housing development on the city’s west side.

Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to allow the Rocky Mountain Development Council to move forward with its planned Red Alder Residences. The development would include 85 housing units on a 9.7 acre parcel at the corner of Henderson and Brady Streets.

“We have had a number of conversations as a commission and as a broader community about the lack of affordable housing stock and the need for affordable housing,” said Commissioner Heather O’Loughlin. “I think this is a very worthy project, it’s beautifully designed, and I think it’s going to actually add a lot to the community.”

The Red Alder Residences would include 42 one-bedroom apartments, 31 two-bedroom and 12 three-bedroom. The buildings will be a mixture of duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, but leaders say they want each unit to be relatively independent.

“We’re trying to make them feel like individual homes as much as we can,” said Liz Mogstad, Rocky’s affordable housing director. “Because it’s surrounded by single-family on several sides, we wanted the project to feel and look like a single-family development.”

Rents would be set to make the units available to a variety of income levels. Red Alder will accept Section 8 housing vouchers from low-income residents, but Mogstad said they also want to serve people who make too much to qualify for government assistance, but still have trouble paying market rent.

“We recognize that there’s a gap in our community,” she said.

No one spoke in opposition to the Red Alder project during Monday’s meeting, but some nearby residents had previously raised concerns about traffic, noise and other impacts from the development. Rocky agreed to several changes intended to address those issues.

“We actually brought the neighborhoods in last summer, early on in the process, to let them know what we were doing,” Mogstad said. “We really wanted their feedback and ideas, and we really wanted to address any concerns that they might have.”

The Helena Zoning Commission recommended approving the project, but required three conditions: that landscaping be included to limit noise and other impacts toward the existing neighborhood, that no fourplexes be built along the border with the neighborhood, and that there be a locked gate on Larson Drive between the existing residences and Red Alder. Mogstad said they agreed to the conditions to reassure the neighbors.

The city commission also included the conditions when it approved the conditional use permit. However, Commissioner Andres Haladay said he would have preferred not making those additional requirements.

“I don’t know that I’m hugely comfortable with the city basically playing gated-community-keeper in our conditional use permit,” he said. “I think that’s a neighbor-to-neighbor discussion.”

Now that Rocky has received its permit, leaders will develop a full plan for the site. The city will have to approve that plan for things like compliance with water, sewer, and fire safety requirements.

Mogstad said they hope to break ground on the Red Alder project in the fall. They will begin taking applications from prospective renters in the spring of 2020, ahead of a planned completion date in late summer.

The $18 million project is funded through a combination of public and private funding sources, including federal low-income housing tax credits.