Mopping up the ol’ mailbox

kersting

So many gems in the ol’ inbox.

I’m sorry but I only have time to drop in one right now. It’s a request from Mark Kersting of the Stensrud Building:

I am close to getting to the 250 votes I need to apply for a $250,000 grant from Chase Living Social.  I believe on the basis of the developments I have contributed to in the revitalization of our  neighborhood and our business model we have a shot at getting this grant.

He only needs a few more votes, and TIME IS RUNNING OUT. To weigh in, go to https://www.missionsmallbusiness.com/ and do the following:

Go to the bottom right of the page,  click log in and support,  and then highlight Montana and the city of Missoula. You will see a list of businesses. A bunch of possibilities pop up for Missoula. Hit vote next to the one you choose – like the Historic Stensrud Building.

A lot of other good causes are in the mix, but Kersting wanted folks to know he’s a teeny tiny bit away from qualifying. So FYI.

fire

Also, one more thing, we’ve got a photo gallery up on the Montana fires that you should check out. Larry Mayer took that photo above. The gallery is beautiful, horrific, dramatic.

— Keila Szpaller

Go Osprey! Go Missoula Red Tape!

ballparkThis blog won an award! Neat. First place.

But here’s the real deal.

I just shared on Facebook a Missoula Osprey story from sports reporter Michael Heinbach, and I wanted to post it and the quotes I pulled here as well.

The leaders of the Osprey believe character counts, and I’ve been thankful to read their statements in recent stories:

Here’s Matt Ellis, Osprey vice president, in this story: “We share philosophies of developing quality players on and off the field and the importance of community involvement through our players and franchises.”

Here’s Diamondbacks official Mike Bell in the same story: “We are grateful to the Missoula community for their support, and we are dedicated to putting together high-character winning teams.”

And here’s Osprey manager Andy Green in a story from this weekend: “I’ve said this to the guys, and I’ll say it again today when we have a team meeting, but I’m as interested in developing men as I am in developing baseball players.”

And because life is full of ironies, I will cheer on the Osprey this summer, and I’ll continue to cover the not-so-cheerful fallout from building the ballpark.

The latest news in this story has First Security Bank suing four community members who haven’t paid guaranties that backed a loan to Play Ball Missoula.

— Keila Szpaller

Sleazy: By the numbers!

ADUTwo: That’s the number of times Renee Mitchell, a former councilwoman, used the word “sleazy” to talk about the Missoula City Council’s recent work.

The topic? Granny suites, or “accessory dwelling units,” or ADUs, or in-law units, or abominations, although I may be paraphrasing with the last description.

“Don’t concoct some sleazy way to circumvent the law,” Mitchell said of the council’s work to change the way it notifies people of zoning changes.

Here’s my most recent story on the houses.

The council is talking about loosening the rules for ADUs, and some folks who don’t like those homes or don’t want them in their neighborhoods want to be sure everyone gets a certified letter when changes are proposed.

The council is also talking about ways to notify people. It has asked the Office of Planning and Grants to draft a new way to inform people of possible zoning changes so that whatever type of rezone it is, the notification requirements are the same.

All that’s pending, but Wednesday in Council Chambers, the Plat, Annexation and Zoning Committee took up the idea of allowing ADUs in more places in town, and it sounds like Councilman Bob Jaffe will keep the item on the agenda. Here it is:

Direct OPG Staff to draft an amendment revising the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) provisions of Title
20 with the following provisions and to refer the amendment to the Planning Board for review:  Revise
Chapter 20.45 Missoula Municipal Code entitled, “Accessory Uses and Structures” to allow ADUs by
right in all zoning districts that allow residential uses where one of the dwelling units is owneroccupied; revise Chapter 20.60 Missoula Municipal Code to reduce required parking to one parking
space for a second primary dwelling unit on a parcel that contains no more than two dwelling units,
totaling three required parking spaces for the two units.  This would apply to two single detached units
or a two-unit house.  OPG staff is directed to draft these changes as text amendments to Title 20 and
to include a finding of fact and conclusion of law in the staff report indicating the amendments are text
amendments. (memo) (PAZ) (Returned from Council floor: 4/23/2012)

Direct OPG Staff to draft an amendment revising the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) provisions of Title 20 with the following provisions and to refer the amendment to the Planning Board for review:  Revise Chapter 20.45 Missoula Municipal Code entitled, “Accessory Uses and Structures” to allow ADUs by right in all zoning districts that allow residential uses where one of the dwelling units is owner occupied; revise Chapter 20.60 Missoula Municipal Code to reduce required parking to one parking space for a second primary dwelling unit on a parcel that contains no more than two dwelling units, totaling three required parking spaces for the two units.  This would apply to two single detached units or a two-unit house.  OPG staff is directed to draft these changes as text amendments to Title 20 and to include a finding of fact and conclusion of law in the staff report indicating the amendments are text amendments. (memo) (PAZ) (Returned from Council floor: 4/23/2012)

This conversation isn’t going to be fast, and it may stay fiery.

“Please put this proposal where it belongs, and that’s in the trash,” said John Snively to the committee.

Jerry Ballas, also a former councilor, said there’s no reasonable way to enforce occupancy standards. He requested the council publish a map in the newspaper to show everyone the changes.

Marsha Frey called the idea “dishonest.”

“You are in essence overriding existing zoning in single family neighborhoods,” and homes are a family’s biggest investment, she said.

Councilors and staff have been clear that proposals for changes are rezones. The rub is the type of rezone – ’cause different types trigger different notification requirements. But perhaps not for long.

Myra Shults doesn’t like ADUs either, and with parking already a problem at some rentals in her neighborhood, she doesn’t support the parking provision.

“The parking is unbelievable. Nobody parks on their property. They park on the streets,” Shults said.

Councilor Jon Wilkins earlier pointed out the same thing on a tour of his neighborhood.

Another man whose name I didn’t catch doesn’t want ADUs either: “I hope you knock this thing in the head.”

The conversation will surely involve head-knocking this summer. And a lawsuit?

That’s what Lyn Hellegaard, another former councilor, believes the proposal will yield.

“I can almost bet you’re going to be sued over this,” Hellegaard said, especially because some homeowner associations already aren’t happy.

What else? “You’re going to lose.”

It won’t be the first time, of course. Years ago, a judge found the city was wrong when it allowed people to build homes on lots smaller than zoning allowed, the “boundary line relocation” method of infill.

But when they were still in office, Hellegaard, Mitchell and current Councilor Dick Haines sued the city over the zoning rewrite. And they lost that one.

It’ll be interesting to see how the ADU discussion evolves. It frequently sounds like an all or nothing kind of conversation to me, but I’m sure there are things the council can do to allow some more of those but not let it get to 100 percent build out.

One distraction in this debate is the “it’s-all-happening-in-secret” allegation. It’s so tiresome, and I think folks who wave that flag are just damaging their own credibility. I mean, if you’re showing up at a meeting about it over and over again, it’s not all that secret, is it?

And Councilor Bob Jaffe, who at least on the gas tax topic admitted he doesn’t have the greatest patience for long processes, also has said he wants this ADU conversation to get fully aired out, and he wants the committee to take its time on it, so this matter is going to run its course over numerous meetings and public hearings.

I’m looking for some good angles on this topic. I’ve got a few ideas, but if you have some, too, please feel free to share. Keila.Szpaller@missoulian.com. @keilaszpaller. Here in a comment.

— Keila Szpaller

Gas tax: Who pays the most?

You’ve probably been curious with all the talk about a local option gas tax, right?

I’m heading out for an interview in a couple minutes and waiting on a phone call, and in the meantime, thought I’d look up gas tax information and post it here.

New York pays the most taxes on gasoline, according to the American Petroleum Institute. It pays 69.6 cents a gallon in federal, state and other taxes.

Alaska pays the lowest at 26.4 cents a gallon. Montana pays 46.2 cents per gallon and looks to be about in the middle of the pack.

Then, there’s the rest of the world, which would probably get a good chuckle out of our local debate on 2 cents.

Here’s a good story about that in The Atlantic. It’s a year old, but it’s still got a great gallery of costs in other countries. Here’s the blurb about Spain:

“Spain boasts the lowest tax burden on gas in Western Europe. Its taxes are still more expensive than a gallon of American fuel in February this year (2011).”

Gas price: $7.60

Gas tax: $3.67

Flip through the gallery up there.

Well, I think it’s time to head out. I’m still waiting on that phone call, but it’s time to meet some other folks for a story.

yellowstone

Happy Friday! Oh, and if you’re looking for something to do this weekend, consider checking out the film “Where the Yellowstone Goes.” It premieres in Missoula at the Wilma.

— Keila Szpaller

Voter turnout in Montana

strohmaierVoter turnout in Montana was about 37 percent, according to the results page on the Montana Secretary of State site.

Here’s my story about a couple counties that had trouble with their ballot scanning machines, ES&S 650. In Lincoln County, assistant election administrator Leigh Riggleman was told the problem could be fixed if the county printed its ballots differently.

“My understanding of the problem is that it can be taken care of in the next election by the printer not printing as dark an oval as he’d printed this time,” she said.

I hope someone from ES&S gets back to me. I’d think the scanners would be able to adapt to different shades of printing, but who knows?

Anyway, more on turnout: I took a look at the turnout by county ’cause I’m always curious to see where it’s highest.

Top three are McCone County at 62.4 percent, Carter County at 60.45 percent, and Garfield County at 59.23 percent.

More election coverage? Here’s a flavor from the Indy of a couple progressive election outposts in Missoula. Tears! Strategizing! Hope!

And here’s an exit interview on the U.S. House race with Dave Strohmaier. He lost, but the Missoula City Councilor said he has reasons to feel good about his campaign, too.

— Keila Szpaller