Commissioners in Missoula County are considering a proposal from developers for a land exchange that would use the 40-year-old club’s current property to create 2,000 new housing opportunities, as well as commercial and medical facilities, to help ease the city of Missoula’s current housing crisis. The developers would trade a new plot of land in a floodplain near the Bitterroot River, on which a new course with more year-round amenities would be built. But the golf community is already voicing objection to the idea. “I don’t think it’s a viable option, just because of how long it takes to develop and mature a golf course,” says Bill Galiher, Larchmont’s PGA Director of Golf. “For the 45,000 people that play [our course] every year, I don’t think it’d be very fair.”
Commissioners in Missoula County, Mont. met recently with engineers and developers todetermine the future of the Larchmont Golf Course in Missoula, Mont., KPAX of Missoula reported.
“[We] really need to take a measured, thoughtful approach to any idea for developing it,” said Emily Brock, Missoula County’s Economic and Land Development Director, told KPAX, “Because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”
Two development concerns, the WGM group and BlueLine Development, have proposed a land exchange with the county that would trade a 157-acre plot of land located off US Highway 93 by the Bitterroot River, to build a new course, in exchange for the current 152-acre Larchmont property, KPAX reported.
“The developers would like us to build a golf course in this floodplain area where there can’t be any housing,” Brock said. “[They would then use the current] Larchmont property for affordable and attainable housing.”
The developers aim to provide 2,000 new housing opportunities through a Community Land Trust, as Missoula continues to grapple with a housing crisis, KPAX reported. Commercial and medical facilities would also be part of the project.
But members of the local golf community are already voicing their objections, KPAX reported. “Unanimously we voted to not support the proposal of course,” said Brent Harshbarger, a member of the Larchmont GC Board of Directors.
Bill Galiher, PGA, the club’s Director of Golf, said during the commissioner’s meeting that replacing the course is not an option. “I don’t think it’s a viable option, just because of the work it takes and how long it takes to develop and mature a golf course,” Galiher said. “For the 45,000 people that play [the course] every year, I don’t think it’d be very fair to them.
“We’ve had people playing there for 40 years waiting for our trees to grow up,” Galiher added. “Moving to a site that takes another 40 years to develop and grow wouldn’t be fair to the people who have developed this place.”
County officials did not make a formal decision on the proposal, as it was their first meeting discussing the idea, KPAX reported. Additionally, there was no talk about the cost of the proposal.
Missoula Current reported that the property with the new 18-hole course would also include trails, a new clubhouse and a boat launch on the Bitterroot River.
The developers contend that the existing course is used only seasonally and doesn’t serve the highest and best use of the community, given its need for housing, Missoula Current reported. They suggested that the new course could be professionally designed and include a number of amenities lacking at the existing course, such as a more sustainable irrigation system, trails for both bikes and pedestrians, winter skiing, and a pro shop and restaurant that doubles as a community center in the winter. It could also include golf simulators for the winter season.
“We wouldn’t be opening this discussion without having a replacement location to bring to the table for Larchmont,” said Jeff Smith, principal engineer with WGM Group. “This idea at its core is a concept to allow working Missoulians to remain in Missoula and not be displaced by the ever-increasing cost of renting or owning a home in Missoula.”
Of the 2,000 units of proposed housing, around 800 would be single-family, owner-occupied homes built upon a community land trust to protect affordability, Missoula Current reported. The project would also include 300 to 400 multi-family homes targeting less than 80 percent of the area’s median income, as well as 450 senior living homes.
Kate Dinsmore with WGM Group said the project would create enough attainable and affordable housing to begin moving the dial in Missoula. The median price of a home in the city now stands at more than $400,000 a year—a price that far exceeds the reach of local wages, Missoula Current reported.
Many Missoula residents have been priced out of the existing market, Missoula Current reported. Around 25 percent of home owners are considered cost-burdened, along with 50 percent of renters, meaning that more than 30 percent of their income goes toward housing.
“We all know housing prices are exceeding wages in Missoula,” said Dinsmore. “But the increase in supply with the economies of scale within this development will help flatten price escalation in both single-family and apartment living in the community. We also have an aging population, and there’s a need for senior housing in the community.”
But the county commissioners placed the onus on the developers to win public support for their proposal as it takes shape, Missoula Current reported.
“This is a transformation of the landscape on a generational scale,” said commissioner Josh Slotnick. “There’s no way we can forge ahead with this without doing an extensive and real public process, and give the developers a chance to develop a plan the golfing community would really like, and a chance for the golfing community to get their details in a row as well.”
“Should it move forward at all, it’s going to be a very long process,” Brock added. “Larchmont is a treasured public amenity with enormous use. The county will take a measured, thoughtful approach to any idea for developing it. However, this a bold proposal that could add significant housing supply to our market.”
Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, a former member of the Larchmont Board of Directors, said he sympathized with the golfing community, Missoula Current reported.
“I fully understand and sympathize with the concerns of the golfing community, and those who have invested time, energy, dollars and much of their lives into this facility,” Strohmaier said. “I can’t think of a project I’ve been more lukewarm about in recent days. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t continue the public process and get some concrete answers to questions we might have.”
Larchmont GC is situated on county-owned land and has been in operation for around 40 years, the Missoulian reported. Each year, the 18-hole course, which was designed by Dick Watson and Keith Hellstrom, hosts the Montana Open, a large golf event where professionals and amateurs compete.
The Missoulian’s report also provided more details on the depths of the housing crisis in the city of Missoula, which has a population of just under 75,000. A recent city report found that the city’s rental vacancy rate is 0.38%, down from 6% in 2019. Additionally, average rent has spiked to more than $1,100, and nearly 8,000 Missoula households making under $50,000 are paying more than 30% of their income toward housing.
Larchmont GC contributes around $100,000 in revenue per year to the county, with an additional $12,000 from the Caddy Shack, a restaurant on the golf course, the Missoulian reported.