It’s a “cruel joke” — but that’s just “hollow rhetoric.”
The zoning rewrite brought expected fireworks Wednesday to Council Chambers, with minority members of the council begging for another legal opinion on the city’s authority to overhaul its regulations. In other words, an opinion that isn’t city attorney Jim Nugent’s, though dissenting councilors said he’s mighty respected.
“I am urging and I am demanding that we have another opinion to represent the people who believe that this process has been skewed and is becoming almost a cruel joke on the people of this town,” said Councilwoman Renee Mitchell.
Nugent, though, has said the city isn’t overstepping its reach. He described the attacks as “hollow rhetoric” and said detractors need to bring forward specific concerns.
Minority members were unconvinced — though it wasn’t clear if they want to find a lawyer who disagrees with the city attorney or simply pose the question to other counsel. Lawyer Alan McCormick, for instance, has said he has no qualms with the process. He’s no apologist for the city, either, having gone to bat against it in court.
Either way, Councilman Ed Childers looks to be blocking the minority attempt. Still, more lawyer opinions are coming up, courtesy of the MBIA’s Ryan Morton. He said he’d ask an organization staff attorney for an opinion and get back to the group. He expected the word in a couple weeks and not at a great cost.
“I can get that for free,” Morton said.
In the meantime, the motion to set a public hearing on the draft update passed 6-5 and is scheduled for June 22. Councilors John Hendrickson, Jon Wilkins, Lyn Hellegaard, Dick Haines and Mitchell voted no. The Historic Preservation Commission also is up for discussion.
Some minority folks questioned the process and some majority members tried to steer the discussion to the merits of the document. Councilwoman Stacy Rye said councilors with concerns should air them and she said she’d listen. Councilwoman Marilyn Marler started listing off the remaining sticky wickets — until OPG director Roger Millar said he already had a list.
The minority take on the zoning rewrite seems to be that the new ordinance oversteps by making “substantive” changes. The $250,000 contract, though, never was about copy editing.
This from a story I wrote earlier: The contract’s scope of work refers to meaty revisions. “This report will focus on the ‘big ideas’ for substantive … changes,” reads the document. Also, the scope of work charges consultants with “explaining … any major changes from existing practice.” (Sorry, but I can’t find a copy of the contract on the new city Web site.)
As you know, the Planning Board adopted the rewrite unanimously. Chairman Don MacArthur earlier said the board veered away from some changes that felt like they went beyond the scope of a rewrite. At the same time, he said some members of the community still felt some changes approved by the board went too far.
The fighting dragged Childers into the fray. Wednesday, minority members pushed Council President Childers to stop holding up their referral on the second opinion. He hasn’t taken up their idea in committee yet and admitted he wasn’t going to do so. He said they admitted it didn’t have legs, so he thinks it’d be a “frivolous” way to spend council’s time. Also, in an election year, he doesn’t want such a vote to turn up in campaign materials. The move was divisive — not that this topic isn’t already — and minority members called on Childers to stop blocking their referral.
“I find that abhorrent,” said Councilman Dick Haines.
In a Wednesday e-mail, Councilman Jason Wiener responded to the minority’s charge: “… We again heard members of City Council allege that the proposed new zoning ordinance is a different work product than what Council asked for in the zoning rewrite because it considers substantive issues (like, presumably, the elimination of Planned Neighborhood Clusters). … The record flatly contradicts this.”
He points to the minutes of a Feb. 27, 2007, discussion on the scope of the zoning rewrite: “By asking a consultant to make a list of what worked and what did not work in the current zoning ordinance, we would receive responses related to process and to policy. ‘You can not open up Pandora’s Box part-way.’ The consultant will provide a list and ask what the City wanted to do. He (Millar) felt that the City needed to do a substantive rewrite of the ordinance; it could be done but it would take longer. …Councilman Childers requested Mr. Millar make a referral to PAZ for expanding the focus of the zoning ordinance rewrite before selecting a consultant.“
Writes Wiener: “Following that referral, Council voted 11-0 for the scope of work that has brought us to the point we are today. Allegations that Council did not know what it was voting to initiate or did not vote to initiate the ordinance we are considering right now are simply not credible and never will be, no matter how many times they are repeated.”
Agree or disagree, the metaphors were vivid. Mitchell likened the rewrite to a snack that morphed into a full entree. A kid after school asks for a snack, and his mom says yes. He usually has a PB&J sandwich and a glass of milk. This time, though, he starts thawing out the London broil.
If it’s a London broil, it’ll be cooked beyond well done before the fall.
— Keila Szpaller
P.S. I want to link to the packet OPG handed out … and will do so when I have it electronically. Meantime, I’m pretty sure much of the stuff is pulled directly from the documents tab at zoningmissoula.com.