Too many last chances

Don’t blame Public Works for fees, said director Steve King. It’s the Missoula City Council that sets ’em.

This week, the Public Works Committee took another look at sewer connection fees.* The $350 fee was set in 1986 and extended in 2001 and again in 2006. (The fee was listed as $300 in a memo but King said it’s actually $350.) The $1,400 fee kicked in this year, but someone who’d planned to pay just $350 was shocked to learn of the hike. So the Council is talking about offering a $500 coupon to help with the increase — though some councilors aren’t thrilled about yet another last chance at a good connection rate.

King passed along this history of fees.* At the meeting, Councilwoman Stacy Rye said she was less and less supportive of fees that grow by the leap instead of in small increments. In an e-mail, King shot back: “Although Ms. Rye somehow credited city staff for the OPG and Public Works fee structure, in fact the City Council sets fees.” Well, it sounds like at least one councilor is going to be taking a closer look at any recommendations for increases.

The fees affect work on the ground, and King’s gone Monday but he said other city officials are going to report how drops in projected revenue will affect other projects. The report at the Council meeting may help make up the minds of some council folks who weren’t keen on yet another extension of the super rate. It sounds like some of the “One day only” sales that are advertised for “Saturday and Sunday.”

— Keila Szpaller

Get your zzz’s

In this post I’m linking more than you ever wanted to read about zoning and the project* to update Missoula’s rulebook. Seems the memos are flying back and forth over the nitty gritty details.

I think there’s a couple things at play here. Councilman Jon Wilkins said he’s still surprised by how many people don’t know this project is happening. I could be wrong, but I tend to think this is one of those things many people prefer to leave in the hands of those they elected, at least for the most part. Not like the dogs and leash issue, which had people bringing their dogs’ pictures to Council Chambers. Hey, maybe we should all bring pictures of our most/least favorite ADUs. Certainly, OPG has publicized the wazoo out of the zoning meetings and workshops, and it seems like anyone who wants to get involved is.

A distaste for infill remains a factor among folks who oppose the rewrite. Surprise. Check out their Web site here.* Looking for a contact name? Don’t bother — it wasn’t available last I checked. (All the hands kinda look like a design from Rep. Betsy Hands’ campaign but I’m pretty sure she’s got nothing to do with this.) For better or worse, this community has spoken in favor of density rather than sprawl — and hasn’t made a loud call to stop growth. (Some folks say the forums where people say they’re pro things like density and transit are designed to elicit those responses.) In any case, some of the ideas — like making ADUs easier to build — came directly from the consultant’s listening sessions with community members. It’s something that makes the anti-infill crowd go bananas — or at least draw up petitions.

Speaking of petitions — here’s the flyer* that goes with it. Here’s OPG’s response* to it — and here’s Councilman John Hendrickson’s reply.* Pour yourself a hot cup before you delve into all these docs.

Speaking of Hendrickson, though, it’s an election year. Could some of the cage rattling going on with the zoning rewrite be political posturing? (Gasp. Not in Missoula.) Well, the zoning rewrite is one of a few things on Mayor John Engen’s to-do list. Can he cross it off before November?

— Keila Szpaller

Wait. There’s more.

This week’s Council meeting was short but had plenty of fire — about Ward 5, about Mountain Line buses, about the zoning rewrite. It’s nothing new for Councilman Dick Haines to clobber the administration in his comments — but it is new to hear Councilwoman Pam Walzer retort. That’s in this story.*

And there was more. Councilman John Hendrickson said he wasn’t piggy backing on someone else’s meeting when he pulled a petition out of his car. Ryan Morton, with the MBIA, had said here* that he wasn’t pleased that a councilman had gone to the zoning open house and started passing around a petition against it. He hadn’t named Hendrickson, but Hendrickson said he’s the man — though unfairly accused.

At the open house, Councilman Jon Wilkins had asked Hendrickson for a copy of the petition — and according to both, after the open house had closed Hendrickson went to his truck and got Wilkins a copy, which one of his constituents had requested. So there.

Another thing — Councilwoman Renee Mitchell said she wasn’t too happy Mountain Line was getting money for driving around empty buses. Councilwoman Stacy Rye said she herself rides and has been in at least two completely packed buses. I got a call from a rider who wasn’t complaining that Mountain Line was getting money, but he wasn’t sure why the money was going to replace buses instead of adding buses.

Bus schmus. The van drivers kick butt — that’s the word from Councilwoman Lyn Hellegaard, also head of MRTMA. The volunteer drivers of the I Ride Van Pool had absolutely zero accidents last year in some 253,000 miles. Yeah volunteers, and hooray good drivers!

— Keila Szpaller

Paying for sidewalks

Jon Salmonson thinks people in cars should pay — they’re the ones forcing him onto the sidewalk anyway.

“You fix a place for me to walk,” says the Franklin to the Fort resident to motorists.

A local option gas tax isn’t on the table, but the Office of Neighborhoods has done some research on Street Maintenance Districts. The main question for Missoulians: Can you afford to pay $30 a year?

Here’s the presentation* on the tool from neighborhood liaison LaNette Diaz. A Street Maintenance District brings some $4 million to Billings, and here it could help pay for big-ticket items like reconstruction on Hillview Way. Diaz said so far, some three out of four people surveyed like the idea. Wanna weigh in? Let’s give this poll thing a whirl.

Would you be willing to pay $30 a year for a Street Maintenance District in Missoula?

Yes

No

Yes — As long as some of the money was reserved for improvements and not just maintenance.

ugg boot

— Keila Szpaller

Mother in laws and renters

So pictures of mother-in-law units were up at the recent open house about the zoning rewrite — good apartments and ugly ones.

These pics are courtesy of Ryan Morton, with the Missoula Building Industry Association. This first one? It falls in the “good” category. The bad one is Pic No. 2 below — a deceptive monstrosity, writes Morton: “The Bad ADU photo from the street frontage looks harmless behind the blue primary structure.  From the side street, you’ll see that it’s a gigantic barnlike creature of epic backyard proportions. The ADU overlay would certainly protect neighbors from that type of ADU.”

See here? Wait for it …

Behemoth, baby, at Pic No. 3. This is one reason some folks are gnashing their teeth over the zoning rewrite and filed a petition against it. The Indy wrote about that petition here* this week.

Funny thing about the ADUs is some of the people who are loudly against the things have ’em. Ian Lange wrote an editorial here* speaking against those apartments.

At the time, he said the city doesn’t share the possible downsides of ADUs with people. From his point of view, that’s more rentals, more noise, more parking problems, and a crime rate only going up.

“But the city doesn’t tell us that,” he said.

Lange lives in Missoula part of the year, and what he didn’t tell us is his home here has an attached apartment. He explained: “Well, the house we bought had a conforming apartment, OK? We didn’t convert a garage or anything like that. So what we’re doing is we’re providing housing.”

I guess that’s one possible upside.

— Keila Szpaller

Zoning open house successful despite protest

Ryan Morton reports that the weekend’s open house on the zoning rewrite went well — except for some uninvited lobbying and protesting. Roaming around with a protest petition was a Council person, Morton said. He declined to name the local elected but said he wasn’t keen on having the mostly voluntary effort to inform the public infected by folks with agendas — both for and against.

“To have other people piggyback their agenda is very frustrating,” said Morton, a spokesman for the Missoula Building Industry Association. “To have it be a City Council person is particularly upsetting.”

Missoula ADAPT put on the open house to inform people about the city’s effort to update zoning regulations. ADAPT is the Area Development and Preservation Team, a loose coalition of professionals and area residents interested in housing.

Morton said roughly 25 people showed up to the event, including a few new faces.

“On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, that’s not terrible,” he said.

In fact, the people who showed up said they want more. At the workshop, people could view displays on accessory dwelling units (more on that one later), density, signs and more. Morton said future displays will cover more “hot button issues” such as lot line houses, height, planned unit developments and sidewalks. Some displays may go up around the farmers markets, too.

Evidently, the open house got heated a couple times. Some participants saw fit to unleash on Morton, seated at a table on density and evidently looking suspiciously like a government employee.

“They seemed to think that we were all OPG staff, so I got yelled at a few times,” Morton said.

— Keila Szpaller

Links and more links

Here’s a story* on state Commissioner of Political Practices Dennis Unsworth’s decision that some people against I-2 broke campaign finance laws. The 2006 initiative was aimed at making pot offenses a low priority in the county. But there’s more from the commissioner on the investigation.

“The findings here do raise the issue of campaigning on public time,” Unsworth said.

He also said that issue is a potential ethics violation, not addressed in the complaint. But the petitioners have more than enough time to make an amendment — and may do so.

For your reading pleasure, the decision,* a detailed look at how the commissioner came to his conclusions.

The flyer in question, sides one* and two.* (If you can’t open them, shoot me a note and I’ll email them. I’m at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com)

And here’s the news release* from the petitioners, Citizens for Responsible Crime Policy, followed by their letter to the County Attorney.

Finally, here’s the County Attorney’s letter* to the Commissioner.

— Keila Szpaller

Democrats to discuss rule change

At tonight’s Missoula County Democratic Central Committee meeting, the group is looking at whether to eliminate a rule that prevents elected officials from running for the group’s executive board. It’s a 20 + -year-old rule in Missoula County, said Missoula County Democratic Chairman Jim Dayton. The theory behind it is to allow the local Democratic chapter the freedom to operate on the wishes of the people and without undue influences from their elected leaders.

Those who support eliminating the rule argue in favor of increased participation. The idea that we need more people involved, no matter whether they are elected officials or not.

“If we had a lot of people clamoring for a position of authority in the party, then we wouldn’t need the rule change,” Dayton said.

City Councilman Jason Wiener, whose a non-voting member of the executive board already, would like to have more influence in the local party chapter. To date, he’s the only elected official to express interest in joining the voting-ranks of the executive board. If the rule was axed, however, other elected officials could also throw their names in the hat.

Other counties don’t necessarily prohibit elected officials from joining their executive board, but Yellowstone County seemed to think Missoula County’s rule was a pretty good idea, Dayton said. The Missoula County Republicans don’t adhere to such a rule, either. But then again, “We don’t have very many elected officials in Missoula County anyway,” said local GOP Chairman Will Deschamps.

In any case, Red Tape is writing about this is because we heard there’s mixed feelings among local Democrats over the potential change, so we encourage anyone who has an opinion to voice it tonight at 7 p.m. at the Missoula Children’s Theater.

— By Chelsi Moy

Small gap in the big plan?

No sense having a great downtown if you’ve gotta take a nasty trek to get there. Councilwoman Stacy Rye asked folks spearheading the Downtown Master Plan to pay attention to one of the “gateways,” the Orange Street railroad underpass. Rye said the sidewalks under the bridge may as well have baskets of pepper spray, they’re that inhospitable.

I go under that bridge often, and I’ve seen chunks of cement on the ground and holes in the bridge, so I’ve worried about those hunks smashing things — like people? — below.

Anyway, the Missoula Downtown Association brought the most recent draft of the plan to a Missoula City Council committee last week. The document sets out the way the core of Missoula should develop in the next couple decades and hits retail, transportation, public spaces and more. Some hot button issues remain, and they’re these: Broadway lanes (go figure … ), Higgins Avenue lanes, the plan boundaries, zoning, neighborhood protection, and bike lanes.

The consultants have pushed for “cycle tracks,” which are protected from motor traffic. Bike lanes, on the other hand, run alongside motor traffic. The consultants have lauded the tracks for making bikes more widely attractive, but the cycling community here hasn’t bit yet. One concern seems to be navigating intersections.

Plenty of discussion is still on tap for the Master Plan. It should be before the Planning Board and the Council again in the next couple months.

— Keila Szpaller