Urban phenomenon

Urban chickens made the National Geographic in a brief story here.* The Garden City opened up more widely to chickens more than a year ago, but Missoula’s birds avoided the national press. One commenter suggests the White House needs some chickens to go with its new garden. Hmmm … Can you see chickens and a vegetable garden on the Missoula County Courthouse lawn? Tasty.

— Keila Szpaller

Ranch on Rock Creek

It’s been awhile since there’s been any noise from the mouth of Rock Creek, where Oregon developer Michael Barnes was pushing for a 36-home subdivision that was subsequently scaled down to 13.

More than a year ago Missoula County Commissioners asked the Rock Creek Protective Association to be patient in pushing toward a decision until a study of manmade ponds in the Rock Creek drainage was completed. A UM fishery biologist completed the study and published it in February, and last week RCPA president John Menson presented the commissioners with a letter asking they push forward to a resolution.

Rock Creek residents’ chief beef was the pond Barnes dug but for which he has water rights from the Clark Fork River only six months of the year. Menson has documents that show it has dried up each of the past two winters — not real good fish habitat.

There’s some question whether Barnes is even interested in developing the 147-acre property now. He has reportedly sold another piece of land west of Missoula, and this one is posted on Katie Ward & Associates real-estate web site for $5.75 million.

As per Menson and the protective association’s request, the commissioners will meet with the planning department in the next week or two to discuss their next step. But first the planners want to contact all parties, including Barnes or his representatives, in order to see where they’re coming from.

Barnes opened discussions about the development some three years ago. There have been two revisions in the subdivision regulations since then, and there is a question whether the commissioners would consider it under the old regs or the new, if it comes to that. Presumably, a new developer would have to start over. Stay tuned. —

Kim Briggeman

Rehberg submits Facebook comments to public record

Gone are the days of writing  your Congressional representatives a letter or traveling to Washington, D.C., to testify on federal legislation. Now, in some cases, you can make your opinions known simply by logging on to Facebook.

Congressman Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., on Tuesday submitted comments from his Facebook group, “Fight to Protect the 2nd Amendment Against H.R. 45,” for inclusion in the Congressional Record. There are 1,641 members of Rehberg’s Facebook group, which was created to oppose stricter federal gun control laws. The Congressman selected 16 comments posted on this public Web site to include in the Congressional Record, the official record of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

“Online venues like Facebook and Twitter have made government more accessible to the people than ever before,” said Rehberg in a released statement.

Here’s a sample of some of the comments Rehberg submitted.

“As a U.S. Soldier and a Montanan guns have always been a part of my life. I will never give up the right to keep and bear arms. I say if anyone wants to take my guns. . .. . .. . …You can try but you might want to wait till I’m reloading!!!!!”—Matt Calnan

“A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and emotional maturity.”—Sigmund Freud

“If I’m a violent criminal all set to ply my trade, I’d rather operate in an unarmed helpless community than your basic Montana town. What is it about an armed populace that is so frightening?”—Randy Nankivel

— Chelsi Moy

Coulda sworn he was running for mayor …

… but last week, Councilman John Hendrickson said he’d filed to keep his Ward 2 seat. It’s a bit early, but Hendrickson said in order to legally accept donations, you’ve gotta have the papers filed. And people have been wanting to give him money.

I would’ve bet Hendrickson was going to try a run for mayor — because of a little speechifying here and there more frequently than usual. Evidently, he’s not that much of a glutton for punishment. Mayor John Engen is still popular in Missoula and even folks who might want to see him gone haven’t been convinced anyone can take him on — yet. Hendrickson said for now, he’s just wanting to stay put. (For later? Hendrickson isn’t making any predictions past this season.)

Meanwhile, Engen is definitely on the radar of political leaders outside this burg. He was the Master of Ceremonies at last weekend’s Mansfield Metcalf Celebration in Helena.

— Keila Szpaller

How much? And say that again, Mr. Governor

By one measure, Missoulians get back just 71 cents for every dollar they spend on the federal gas tax. By another measure, they get back 57 cents. Either way, it isn’t enough.

The Missoula City Council on Monday approved a resolution* saying the city isn’t getting its fair share of federal transportation dollars. In that document, the count is 57 cents. In the one signed by TPCC members, it’s 71 cents. Both ways, it’s less than a third of the state average, according to the docs.

Four council members didn’t vote in favor, though: Hendrickson, Hellegaard, Haines and Mitchell. Mitchell said she’s a Montanan and a Missoulian, but Missoulians can be seen as “a bunch of whiners.” She said she isn’t against Missoula getting its fair share. At the same time, she doesn’t see the city as “elite” or “entitled” and believes the resolution is worded in that spirit.

Haines, always pleading for a bridge for Miller Creek, said the money wouldn’t go that way anyway. And Hellegaard said the reason Missoula isn’t getting all the money it wants is MDT sees the city being indecisive on road projects. As an example, she pointed to the TPCC’s decision earlier to divert money from the Russell Street construction to other projects, like transit.

What about the governor, though? At the meeting, Councilman Jason Wiener said Schweitzer supposedly considers Missoula a powerful economic driver for Montana — yet the funding decisions coming from the state don’t seem to reflect that stance. Oops.

— Keila Szpaller

Holy field of potatoes

Chickasaw Place was approved late Monday — but with a big catch. The Missoula City Council voted to have the owner set aside three acres of the 9.5-acre property for agriculture. Councilwoman Stacy Rye has said that amount is reasonable and Missoula doesn’t need to be a “cheap date” when it comes to development. Councilwoman Lyn Hellegaard, on the other hand, has said the amount is arbitrary and she intends to get a formal discussion going on exactly how much is fair.

City attorney Jim Nugent said such a discussion should happen quickly since the state hasn’t set guidelines for preserving ag. A statute sets the amount of land a developer must set aside for parks. (It’s a sliding scale with an 11 percent maximum.) Could the city decide the land that’s already set aside for parks count for parks OR ag?

“I would think that would be within the realm,” Nugent said.

And could the city decide to have owners set aside land for both? Say, an 11 percent maximum for parks AND ag?

“The more you go towards consuming more land in that respect, the more potentially vulnerable it might be as to whether the regulation is reasonable,” Nugent said.

He continued: “I don’t know where that line is. It’s never been litigated in Montana and the Legislature hasn’t provided guidance.”

The Chickasaw owner got a break on the park requirement but had to preserve more land overall.

The Council voted 9-3 in favor of annexing and zoning Chickasaw. Councilwoman Renee Mitchell and Councilmen Dick Haines and Jon Wilkins opposed it. Councilwomen Pam Walzer and Lyn Hellegaard changed their votes from a couple weeks ago, which resulted in the needed supermajority. Some paperwork needs to get filed, but the deal Monday was to let the owner have up to 30 lots with three acres set aside in the southeast corner for agriculture. Also, a road connection is supposed to line up with Stallion Lane.

— Keila Szpaller

Zoning Missoula

So there’s a home in town that’s supposed to move over six inches. One city official said build it there — and the owner and builder did. Then, that official died. When the new guy inspected it, he said the first official had been wrong. By six inches. And he said the house was in the wrong place. He said this to the owner, who you can imagine was a tad frustrated. This is the perhaps apocryphal story a girlfriend told me on a dog walk yesterday. We weren’t talking about the zoning rewrite, but I think her story is the reason a lot of builder types are anxious for the new zoning rules to take effect. More clarity, less room for interpretation. The Planning Board is combing through pieces of the update again 7 p.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers.

Plenty of people are weighing in. Some are making comments about how this rule or that one is going to affect their neighborhoods, and it seems like an appropriate time to slog through those details. How tall in this zone? Where do mother-in-law units work? Where don’t they?

There’s another conversation taking place that doesn’t have much business in the present. Some folks are saying the project suddenly grew too big and isn’t necessary, and those arguments would have been great two years ago. That’s when the Missoula City Council approved the $250,000 contract — with 11 yes votes and zero no votes. Councilman Jon Wilkins abstained. If people didn’t want the city to take on this task, they should have said so then. In any case, the project always was meant to be exhaustive as noted in the contract and, ahem, the pricetag.

— Keila Szpaller

Lighting up

Those old lights the Montana Department of Transportation took down from the Orange Street bridge? They might be reused — and with very different marching orders.  One reason the lights came down is they were expensive to replace. A man that supports people who grow marijuana for medical patients knows how expensive those high pressure sodiums are, and he wants to to see if MDT will donate them to his nonprofit. Their new jobs? Grow lights.

I was on the phone with MDT director Jim Lynch on an unrelated topic right after the man mentioned the idea to me. I asked Lynch if he had a couple minutes for an off-topic tale, and he heard the idea the man had for reusing MDT’s old lights. Said Lynch: “Are you sure you don’t have me on candid phone?”

— Keila Szpaller

Jetsons in Missoula

Check out these little sky trains. Is a new way of travel coming to Missoula? The documents here* and here* came in an e-mail called “Magnetic Levitation Project” from the Office of Planning and Grants. It’s from a company called Unimodal, Inc., with a Web site here.* Look there for pictures of those mini rockets. I haven’t checked out this deal or the company but wanted to post the letters.
— Keila Szpaller