City of Missoula grows, and what’s next for University of Montana open meetings

ParkMissoula is busy.

St. Pat’s is still in turmoil, according to this story from reporter David Erickson.

Planners talked growth Monday at Missoula City Club. That story here. Sounds like déjà vu all over again to me when it comes to the fight about growing in and up – or out and out and out. Back in 2008, or thereabouts, Missoula went through all kinds of planning, with the Urban Fringe Development Area Project and Envision Missoula, and at the time, the community notion was to grow mostly inwardly. The Growth Policy 2014 builds on the ideas, according to the city’s website.

Last week, I went to a budget meeting at the University of Montana, and it made me again curious about how the open meetings and access issue will play out for UM and the Montana University System.

The meeting was noticed, and I did get copies of the materials presented afterward. But it isn’t a given that UM will make materials available to the public, or do so in advance, as the city does.

Sooner or later, I need to follow up with Gov. Steve Bullock’s legal counsel, Andy Huff, on this topic. Huff redistributed a 2014 memo telling government agencies they need to have rules in place for public participation, as former Gov. Brian Schweitzer did.

But it’d be good to know if the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education received that directive. Huff said he wasn’t sure if OCHE got the original memo.

I’m not sure if the memo went to OCHE in 2014. The most recent distribution however occurred at an in-person meeting, and no one from OCHE was there. At chief legal counsel meetings, I typically invite only those agencies/departments under the Governor’s direct authority.

It doesn’t seem like an agency would need to wait for a directive to deal with public participation, but a spokesman for OCHE said he doesn’t believe the system is obligated to adopt such policies.

I can’t think of a time when UM has denied my request to get a copy of a document reviewed at a meeting, but I can definitely think of times people haven’t been sure whether they can provide documents that were clearly public (no names, all campus budget info), and I had to wait until well after the meeting (that wasn’t the case last week).

Also, water. The city of Missoula is taking over water projects slowly but surely, and reporter Peter Friesen has the story.

Picture is from the overlook at Milltown State Park.

  • Keila Szpaller


Moose. Poverello. Cities of the future.

I’ve posted the story of the baby moose just about everywhere, and now, it’s on for the first time! Breaking news!

I love the story. The photo, too. Click here to see the fisherwoman and doctor with the moose in her arms.

If you can’t get enough good news, keep reading. The Poverello Center launched its capital campaign, and the shelter and soup kitchen already raised $1.1 million.

The coolest thing Pov director Eran Fowler Pehan told me is that a $500 check came from a man who used to stay at the Pov and then found a home and a job.

What else?

I’ve been reading a little bit about cities of the future. Here’s one BBC story that talks about concrete that repairs itself, and please feel free to send me anything you think is interesting on the topic of urban design.

The photo? It’s a shop dog I see all the time, usually curled up on a chair inside the window. Yesterday, he was basking in the morning sun as I walked by.

– 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. @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.


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

All budget, all the time! And taxes!

If you missed it, here’s my latest story about Mayor John Engen’s proposed 2013 budget. The general fund is 29 percent larger than it was in the 2006 budget, when Engen’s predecessor was in office.

While the budget has grown under Engen, the mayor and his department heads also have found savings.

City finance director Brentt Ramharter estimated the savings amount to some $2.2 million in fiscal years 2010 and 2011; that’s $1.1 million each of those years.

Ramharter provided a lot of spreadsheets for the story, and I’m going to attach them below.

Also, Mayor Engen provided a handout he gives people who have frequently asked questions about the budget. For instance, folks want to know why city employees pay relatively little into their good plans, and here’s Engen’s response in part:

I’ve owned and operated two small businesses and provided health insurance for employees for the reasons I’ve mentioned here, and because I believed it was the right thing to do. I think the majority of Missoula’s citizens, as shareholders in our municipal corporation, want us to lead by example and be the best employer we can be, without taking advantage of our citizens’ magnanimity. And as a citizen and taxpayer, I believe it’s the right thing to do.

From the City Finance Department, budgets in Excel:

FY2006. FY2007. FY2008. FY2009. FY2010. FY2011. FY2012. FY2013 proposed.

Also, here’s some budget comparisons I put together based on data from Ramharter. Bet you can’t wait to print this stuff out, walk to Greenough Park, and bask in the sun with your crisp Excel spreadsheets.

What else? Oh yes. A history of city tax levies, also courtesy of finance director Ramharter. (Thank you, Brentt, for providing so much information and making sure the comparisons weren’t missing things.)

Year Percent increase
2004 4.04
2005 3.54
2006 7.57
2007 4.25
2008 3.66
2009 4.82
2010 0
2011 1.4
2012 3.4
Proposed 2013 3.28

That’s it for now. Well, except I took that direct and affordable Allegiant flight to Oakland this weekend. Man, if we can keep that one running, I’ll be in heaven.

— Keila Szpaller

Mayor Engen tweets, reflects on Sendak

Mayor John Engen sent his first original tweet today! Follow him: @engenjohn.

EngenJohn10:51am via web

My first tweet: Missoula, my hometown, is a great place that’s getting better.

EngenJohnMay 07, 6:30pm via Twitter for iPhone

RT @jenifergursky: If the interest rate on student loans doubles, the average student pays $1000 more per year. Let’s make the right cho …

Also from Mayor Engen in an email with “Sendak” in the subject line:

My favorite (Maurice Sendak) quote from ‘Fresh Air.’ I wept in the garage while listening. Couldn’t figure out how to tweet it back to you, so am relying on e-mail.

I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. … What I dread is the isolation. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.

– Maurice Sendak

I think he sent it because I’d forwarded this one:

RT @Lgpguin: Observation: Many Maurice#Sendak obituaries, profiles do not mention he was gay. 50 years with partner till 2007 death

@Lgpguin is a good one to follow, too, ’cause she comments frequently on city government affairs.

She (“a woman working too much” in Missoula) replied to a tweet I’d sent Monday during the Missoula City Council meeting:

LgpguinMay 07, 9:36pm via txt

Hell freezes over! I agree w/ KMJ MT @KeilaSzpaller: Kandi Matthew-Jenkins said we celebrate booze in MSO while trying to fight DUIs. Do …

That was “doublespeak.”

Anyway, it was good to get a note about something human and literary from the mayor since tomorrow we’re talking about his proposed budget.

— Keila Szpaller

Numbers are so wonderful … here you go!

Here’s some data from Missoula Municipal Court on DUI and partner-family member assault tickets written by police.

You can see that this year, Missoulians are on track to rack up 1,240 DUIs, and that’d be a 71 percent increase from tickets written in 2009. Wow. These are just DUI tickets written, though. I don’t have a breakdown of the various results, like how many end up dismissed. But still. It’s lots.

Tickets 2009 2010 2011 YTD 2012
DUIs written 726 896 1132 310
PFMAs written 424 427 488 133
Source: Missoula Municipal Court

Also, in case you didn’t know, Animal Control officers started patrolling city parks by bike to try to keep dogs on leashes. Photographer Michael Gallacher took the picture. I’m glad that’s not me and my dog, although that’s a really cute pup.

— Keila Szpaller

Back in the Garden City!

olentangyFinally! Whirlwind trip.

Here’s a picture of the Olentangy River in Columbus, Ohio.

So what’d I miss? I’m going to jump on a story about a cell phone tower, and I’m taking other ideas to add to the clean list of stories to write.

Also, if you have a mother-in-law unit you think is really sweet or hideously terrible, shoot me the address. It’s time to take a closer look at some of those homes in Missoula. My email is

Oh, and you saw this story about the mom who says TSA treated her daughter like a terrorist, right? Her daughter is 4 years old.

Alrighty. Back in the saddle.

— Keila Szpaller

Bobcat, fox, frequent Kelly Island neighbor

Here are pictures of one fox that visits the Carters near Kelly Island.

Since day one at their home near Kelly Island, the lives of (Robert) Carter and his family have intertwined with the curious and hungry creatures of the neighborhood.

“A lot of animals that use the river corridor will come up along the fence and check things out,” Carter said.

Especially when there’s chicken dinner on the menu.





Those are Carter’s pictures, and below is more from him in his own words. Later, I’ll post more bobcat pictures, and one of a dead chicken about to lay an egg.

Continue reading

Wolken continues to garner support for Ward 2 seat

wolkenCynthia Wolken, a lawyer and chairwoman of the Montana Human Rights Network board of directors, took on the Missoula City Council’s questions about representing Ward 2 with these responses.

Wolken, who interviews Wednesday with the council, is one of the people Roy Houseman recommended take his Ward 2 seat. She, too, lives on the Westside. This excerpt is from her responses in the application:

“I love my neighborhood and the City of Missoula and would like to preserve and improve the unique quality of life we enjoy here. Among other issues, I would support preserving our open spaces and ensuring a clean and healthy environment, supporting sensible transportation solutions, working toward meaningful equality for our citizens, and encouraging sustainable local businesses and jobs.

I also believe strongly in government transparency and would work to encourage full participation in local governing by Missoula residents. I have the support of former Councilman Roy Houseman, as well as a number of Ward 2 residents and community activists.

Lastly, I believe that it is important that women be represented on the Council, as well as the young professional demographic, which makes up a significant portion of the Ward.”

Wolken continues to garner support in our letters to the editor. Here’s the latest note, from Jennifer Hill-Hart: “Wolken … has the temperament befitting a public servant – she listens to all viewpoints and looks for solutions wherever they may be found.”

— Keila Szpaller