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An anonymous group of Missoula city property owners want to put a stop to the process of updating the City’s zoning regulations. Earlier this week the group began circulating a petition that asks property owners to sign a formal “notice of protest” to the consolidated draft version of the zoning code. “People are waking up to this (proposal) and they don’t know what to do,” said Lee Clemmensen, one of the people circulating the petition.

Group Circulates Petition to Stop Missoula Zoning Rewrite

An anonymous group of Missoula city property owners want to put a stop to the process of updating the City’s zoning regulations.

Earlier this week the group began circulating a petition (click here for the PDF) that asks property owners to sign a formal “notice of protest” to the consolidated draft version of the zoning code.

“People are waking up to this (proposal) and they don’t know what to do,” said Lee Clemmensen, one of the people circulating the petition.

Clemmensen, who formerly served on the City’s Zoning Advisory Committee, says the petitioners are concerned that the proposed updates will allow unwanted infill and density that could drastically change the character of Missoula’s established neighborhoods. The petition specifically cites nine changes people could see to their neighborhood as a result of the updates, such as three-story buildings up to 35 feet.

Roger Millar, the director of the Office of Planning and Grants, says he has “no problem” with public protest of the document so long as it accurately conveys the content of the proposed updates.

“What we want to see is a reasoned discussion in our community and an informed discussion,” he said.

In some cases, the petition is “factually misleading,” he said.

For instance, the new ordinance on building height in single-family zoning districts is actually more restrictive than the current regulations, according to a statement released by OPG (PDF) in response to the petition’s assertions.

Part of the problem the public faces in having the discussion, Clemmensen says, is that the updates contain so many changes and the process has occurred so quickly that the public has not had the necessary time to digest or respond to the proposals.

“People feel they are constantly getting something new and they don’t like it,” Clemmensen said.

The petitioners hope to obtain the signatures of enough city property owners to affect the process. Under Montana state law, if at least 25 percent of the owners affected by the proposed zoning changes file a legal protest, the City Council is required to pass any changes to the city’s zoning code with a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting instead of a simple majority. This means eight “ayes” instead of the usual seven and it is not presently clear if that additional affirmative votes can be mustered.

If the petition fails, its backers are prepared to seek an injunction in the courts, Clemmensen said.

Exactly who those backers are however is unknown. The group released the petition anonymously—as it is legally allowed to do—and Clemmensen declined to name who wrote or organized the petition drive.

Former Ward 2 Council member Don Nicholson, who along with his wife is also circulating the petition, only received his copy on Monday. He too declined to name the organizers.

Current Ward 1 Council member Jason Wiener, who at the time of New West Missoula phone call did not know any people connected with the petition, was disappointed by the group’s approach.

“I think it is an intellectually dishonest piece of literature and its being circulated under a cloud of secrecy,” he said, while the drafting process of the proposed changes has been “open and transparent.”

As he has repeatedly throughout this nearly two year process, Weiner encouraged the public to make suggestions to the draft text that will help it garner broad support.

“My position from the beginning has been if people can identify changes to the text that will allow us to get more than seven votes, I’m willing to go in that direction,” he said.

“I remain optimistic that we can get eight or more votes,” he said in measured tone that didn’t quite ring with confidence.

The next Missoula Consolidated Planning Board public hearings on the proposed zoning ordinance are next Tuesday and Wednesday, April 21st and 22nd at 7:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at 140 West Pine.

About Peter Metcalf

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11 comments

  1. This is kind of amusing because its happening all over the west, not just Missoula. Its the Nimby Bananas (Not in my back yard Build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody) against the Smart Growth planners. Both sides are a little bit nutty. The Smart Growth advocates have this silly vision of squeezing more people into high density urban areas so they won’t have to use automobiles and won’t sprawl. And the Nimby Bananas want everyone to go away and leave their neighborhoods alone. The Nimby Bananas have succeeded in paralyzing infrastructure growth and demonizing development to the point where its going to be a real mess when the expected population increase happens in the New West.

  2. Jason Weiner calls out to the public to submit changes to “the text” of the draft rewrite but he will not tell you that those of us that have have been ignored and marginalized by him and OPG. I have repeatedly submitted comments nd requests to have ADU’s and density language removed and those requests by a majority of the community have been dismissed.
    So what Weiner really means is that you should submit changes to the text as long as those changes reflect his progressive movement’s desire to dramatically increase infill and density in your neighborhood.

  3. Missoula_misanthrope

    Bulltrout- if you think those kind of comments “remove ADU’s” etc have been asked for by a majority of the community, you are wrong. They have been asked for by a small vocal minority.

  4. I would be interested in seeing what they are protesting. I have looked at the draft of the proposed zoning map and compared with what we currently have and it seems to mostly match what we currently have though the draft seems a lot clearer about what is permitted in each district. The differences seem minor, slightly less restrictive height regulations, slightly different setback rules…
    As it stands now I do not see what they are complaining about.

  5. I find it ironic that one of the complaints of Lee Clemmensen and others who oppose the zoning rewrite has been that the process has not been transparent, yet they have no problem circulating a petition without revealing who drafted it or who is behind the petition drive. If Ms. Clemmensen and Don Nicholson truly believe they represent the majority of citizens, as they repeatedly claim – or at least imply -, and if they believe they are in the right, they should have no problem identifying those involved with the petition drive. Their failure to do so provides good reason to question the motives and credibility of those people pushing the petition. When people are asked to sign the petition, they should not accept the assertions being made by the supporters of the drive, but should ask critical questions and demand answers – including who is behind the petition drive.

  6. The issue here is CHANGE in density. No one, as far as I can tell, is against density, but MANY people are against a change in density.

    What do I mean? Well, homeowners who bought in areas that are currently less dense but desirable for rentals are understandably VERY concerned that the rezoning will allow for increased density, which is very appealing to those who want to rent places out. The ADUs are a serious example of this. They allow a current R1 zoning to be effectively R2, and allow a landlord to double the occupancy of the land they own.

    At the same time there are people owning in areas which already have ADUs. They see no problem with ADUs being added to the rezoning because they are already around them. ADUs won’t CHANGE the density that they currently experience in their neighborhood.

    Many people say that they’d love to MOVE to a more dense area such as downtown, because of what it offers. Some observers take this as meaning that people are happy with density. Not the case. People are only happy with more density when they CHOOSE to move to an area with more density. They are NOT happy when increased density is imposed upon them.

    There are plenty of places that density can be high around Missoula. It has to be in NEW developments. NO ONE is going to complain about the density in the new Sawmill development. If you choose to live there and purchase a place, you KNOW when you buy what density is going to be there. NO ONE complains about the density at the new developments behind Home Depot or out on Expressway – they KNEW when they bought the place what the density was, and the price of the home reflected that density.

    The issue is ALL about CHANGING density, and about IMPOSING increased density on those that did not choose it. The issue is NOT about DENSITY on its own, as many would try to have us all believe.

  7. To Andrew Karlsen,

    You note that the “differences seem minor”. That was the intent. But minor changes can have a big impact!!

    A current building height of 30 feet meant that you could build a two story and be quite aways off the maximum allowed hight. The 30 feet was put in place to prevent anyone hitting a 3 story house, and allow for some flexibility with the 2 story home.

    The new 35 foot building height maximum is just enough to allow for a 3 story house. There’s little to no wiggle room, but you can now definately go to 3 stories.

    So, this “minor” change of 5 feet (it is an over 15% increase BTW) allows for an entire extra floor in a building. That’s a big change!!

  8. Why some choose to keep our names to ourselves is because many of us have to do business with the city and we have suffered retaliation in the past due to our involvement.

  9. David,
    Five feet is still just five feet. I do understand you are concerned about a change in building height, possibly due to increased shading from a neighbors property. I am not sure the concern about a 2 story building vs. a 3 story building is valid since 5 feet is still 5 feet.
    All of the meetings for the zoning rewrite have been public and participation has been encouraged. If the five foot height difference is a huge concern of yours have you attended any public meetings to voice your concern?

  10. Our town of McCall, Idaho suffered through a rotation of “Roger Millar’s “Strafing of Western Towns.” We went through a very contentious change of building heights and densities in neighborhoods and are trying to undo the damage of Roger Millar’s “minor rezonings.” These taller buildings were jammed down our throats by a past city council of hopelessly incompetent people listening to Rogers glib and smug powerpoint presentations.
    Let me tell you what happened to neighborhoods once building heights were increased and densities were increased in our town. 1. Property taxes doubled and tripled in these areas because developers could make more money off property with higher density and more building height. Middle class families left because they could not afford the new taxes 2. The neighborhoods suffered through endless construction, increased traffic, dramatically increased crime and a loss of their neighborhoods. 3. As predicted, the higher density developments went bankrupt and the community is left holding the bag on every agreement in the PUD and CUP. 4. Every developer sued the city to get out of their community housing and improvement clauses in the development agreements and the City of McCall lost in every case. 5. Hundreds of downtown condos are now vacant and turning into foreclosures crushing neighboring property values. But at least the neighbors get to pay the doubled property taxes for the next five years. 6. You will spend your life (or what’s left of it) in city council meetings, P&Z;meetings listening to Rogers glib comments. Trust me on this one, this guy is so much smarter than you ever possibly could be about your own town. 7. Not one of these increased height, increased density, developments paid their way and the few tax paying citizens left in the town are paying for the flotsam left in Roger Millar’s wake.
    You will notice that the McMansion Subdivisions and gated communities have none of the high density, tall buildings of the re-zoning recommendations. Roger Millar’s formula will take your family friendly neighborhoods and turn them into vacant lots and your city will lose their most prized possession–committed, hard working families.
    Our town has fortunately voted in a responsive, forward thinking city council able to undo many of Roger Millar’s disasters. This has been time consuming and expensive. We have spent hundred of thousands defending developer lawsuits and trying to save our existing neighborhoods–you will pay millions in a town the size of Missoula.
    If people want taller buildings and higher density put it into new developments and people will buy into an known commodity. Wake up Missoula or Roger’s overstaffed, overpaid contingent of planners will ruin your community similar to the dozen communities he has strafed over the past decade.
    If Roger Millar did such a great job improving his past dozen communities why didn’t he stay there?? Because he was chased out after he rubbled another town. Don’t say you weren’t warned Missoula.

  11. Tuck, Thank YOU!! I am begging you to keep up the discussion regarding Missoula. Millar splits hairs in his wordsmithing and the unintended consequences of the drive for density will be huge. Wait until people see what the UFDA map will do to them or against them. Wait until they use the Wildland-Urban interface to control your property rights. Watch OPG manipulate the Target Range-Orchard Homes neighborhood plan.
    Why do you think he won’t call for a vote on this rezoning?
    Will Jonathon do a little digging and see if the trail of Roger Millar is in fact what Tuck say’s it is and then tell us?