Naughty Jane Rectenwald

by Pete Talbot

Since it’s the holidays and all, I thought I should play nice. But then, silly me, I surfed some conservative blog sites. They’re coming to the defense of poor Jane “let’s throw a wrench in the works” Rectenwald.

Ms. Rectenwald has been in the news lately, alleging that the Missoula Office of Planning and Grants Director Roger Millar, “upended democracy and threatened to throw her out of meetings.”

This came on the heels of a prepared speech she gave at a planning workshop – a workshop that wasn’t supposed to be a venue for prepared speeches. You can read her complaint and her speech here. The speech is so full of inaccuracies and venom that it boggles the mind.

I don’t know Mr. Millar but I’ve heard he’s an agreeable fellow who’s open to input from the community. To quote Mayor Engen, “Roger Millar is the last person I can think of who would try to stifle public comment, democracy or participation.”

I don’t know Rectenwald that well, either, although I did observe her a couple of times at City-Government Review Board meetings, where she served on the board. It seemed like she was doing her best to derail what was supposed to be a consensus-driven process.

Anyway, Rob Natelson over at Electric City Blog has a post entitled, “Petty Tyranny in Missoula” (subtle, huh?). He has this to say:

“… the citizens present were divided up into “teams.” They were told to confer among themselves and then have a team representative tell everyone else ”two good things and two bad things” about the proposed re-zoning plan. The idea, apparently, was to force people to say something good about the plan, so that could be reported later as a show of public support.”

Hey, Rob – I guess this would “force people” to say something bad about the plan, too.

Then he continues with U.S. Supreme Court/Bill of Rights rhetoric, adding, “it flatly violates the First Amendment for any government official to force a citizen to state views the citizen doesn’t believe.”

So, Rob, were they water boarding the citizens? Electrodes on their privates?

Rob goes on to state that, “a city official told her (Rectenwald) never to attend a Missoula public hearing again!” which is just plain untrue.

And Rob teaches law at UM. Scary.

Carol over at Missoulapolis picked up the beat:

“This is what is so nauseating. Instead of having straightup meetings with each comer allowed his or her say – as in the Miller Creek EIS process, for example – they have to do these “workshops” to foster the illusion of public participation and consensus. It’s a game, and you could say that Jane does not play well with others. And that’s why we like her so much here at Missoulapolis.”

Let’s see … “illusion of public participation,” “it’s a game,” “nauseating.” Tell us how you really feel, Carol. Perhaps let’s not have any public participation and just ram zoning rewrites through the council. Then let’s watch the right-wingers come unglued. They’re never happy

Rectenwald is a spokeswoman for what I call the “dumb growthers.” You know, the folks that favor sprawl and are against infill and affordable housing. They get the most fired up when those pesky university students try to find places to live close to the university.

Rectenwald is not helping the process of revisiting Missoula’s zoning ordinances — and it’s an important process. Nor is she helping her own cause. Way to go, Jane.

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  1. goof houlihan

    “a workshop that wasn’t supposed to be a venue for prepared speeches.”

    That’s the thing, you don’t seem to understand, and neither does the head planner who DOES get miffed when he gets contradicted. Allowing the public to attend and participate is required in any meeting of public interest in Montana. Was the “workshop” open to all members of the public? Was public comment asked for sometime during the meeting? I’m surprised at you coming down on the side of stifling the public comment whether it’s a prepared speech or ex tempore. What does it matter, prepared or spontaneous?

    As for “sprawl” versus “smart growth”, “smart growth” is just a “smart label” for rigid authoritarian zoning. People who CLAIM to support a variety of housing types inevitably end up opposing big houses with quarter or third acre lots and attached garages that allow easy access from the street. “Smart growth” is just a “smart label” for dense, stacked, congested urban living and it carves out an impregnable platform to stand and sneer at “suburbia”.

    What is “suburbia” anyway? It’s people who move out of less safe urban areas and into safer, calmer, more family oriented residential development and who concentrate on raising families and having a little garden and eating a lot of peaches and trying to find Jesus. They want a different environment than living over bars and bistros and on busy streets without storage for cars and boats and snowmobiles and with no place to build a snowman and have a catch with the boy. Everything is then owned by the Kollective, no yards but instead “public open space” and no garages and cars but instead “public transportation” and no privacy but “shared use areas”. “Smart growthers” constantly attack suburbia and people who enjoy it. It’s “ticky tacky houses” and “cookie cutter development” not “neighborhoods”.

    Now, those with guarranteed pensions ARE congregating in new urbanist neighborhoods, gentrifying the bohemian and chasing out the young and poor. They like the bistros and shopping and coffee houses and kitschy bars and art galleries and are breathing new life into downtowns. I know the head planner wants to appeal to that graying population segment and have that kind of built environment. It’s not “bad” or “good” and as a graying baby boomer, I don’t mind that stuff myself. But I’m not attaching a moral imperative on either, as many do about suburbia.

    So before you get all holier than thou on someone speaking up for their way of life, you might consider that they have a legitimate point of view.

    I do.

  2. klemz

    Did I move to the mountains, or are these all mole hills?

  3. “Rob goes on to state that, ‘a city official told her (Rectenwald) never to attend a Missoula public hearing again!’ which is just plain untrue.”

    Actually, you don’t know if it’s “just plain untrue.” You really can’t know that unless you have been with Ms. Rectenwald 24-7 ever since the meeting. Why not just state what you can actually state accurately: You do not agree with Rob Natelson’s characterization of this.

    Then tell us why this is so.

    That might not be so “scary.”

  4. sopko

    I guess those “progressives” who were booing and hissing (led by a former and current councilperson) as Jane read her comments were justified. It’s OK for a progressive to act like a drunk football fan when the enemy threatens! Nice.

  5. Lizard

    whether family suburban sprawl or boomer urban living Missoula has seen a lot of growth, growth now slowing.

    you bring up important points that need to be addressed, goof, but from someone who moved here eight years ago from a region of unsustainable midwestern suburban sprawl, i question the rush to spread over good land we might need to grow food on some day.

    disclaimer: i despise suburbia and the sneering conformity of good american values enforced by draconian home owners association contracts.

  6. petetalbot

    Goof, Gregg, Sopko — the left has its gadflies. You know, the folks who tie up committee meetings and workshops with their pontifications and declarations and inability to interact with others. On the right, that’s Rectenwald. She’s a loose cannon who adds nothing to the conversation.

    And Goof, you’re a friend of anarchy now?

    “I’m surprised at you coming down on the side of stifling the public comment whether it’s a prepared speech or ex tempore.”

    There are guidelines and rules for workshops and charrettes, just like there are guidelines and rules for city council meetings. We have a three-minute rule for public comments at council meetings. But as long as folks are espousing your ideals, I guess it’s OK to go on for ten or twenty minutes, right?

    Were you there, Goof? Do you know anything about the players, like Rectenwald or the head planner who got “miffed,” or the process or, really, any of the history of planning and zoning in Missoula? I didn’t think so. You’re an uninformed enigma. You write often about neighborhoods and the loss of agricultural lands, and you disdain sprawl, but show little understanding of “new urbanism,” public transportation issues or infill in appropriate places.

    By the way, Gregg Smith, I trust the various reporters’ accounts of the event. I certainly don’t believe Natelson’s. Was he there “24-7?”

    And Sopko, a little more innuendo and hyperbole, huh. Pray tell, which former and current council members led the booing and hissing?

    I must of hit a nerve with this post — lots of defensive posturing from the regressives on behalf of St. Jane.

  7. People didn’t boo and hiss her during her 25 minute pontification. Once someone at her table stopped her 20 minutes into her speech and asked her who the “we” was that she kept referring to, it became apparent that she wasn’t following the format – as if a 25 minute speech wasn’t enough. From there, a lot of people got upset because they had kept their comments to the required 4 or 5 minutes.

    As for the booing? Yes. Shame on Missoulians. But perhaps those well-paid consultants should have cut in and reinformed everyone of the value of respectful forums.

    The city has to get something done. Consultants cost money – big money – and it this case, the zoning rewrite, it is being well-spent. There are plenty of other public meetings with open forums with which Ms. Rectenwald can make her input known, including PAZ weekly meetings, Joint Planning Commission meetings and everyone’s favorite, the City Council meetings on Monday night where the floor is opened up to “items not on the agenda.”

    All would have been on camera, which is apparently what Ms. Rectenwald was really gunning for, since she turned to the camera like a Larry King talking head.

    Goof – I can dig through the comments here and find where you supported formatted public forums.

    Beyond all that which I’ve taken from the situation – me, an ardent supporter of public input and one who has been lectured by some included in the comments in this very post – I’ll suggest that everyone who wasn’t there set their VCRs or DVRs or whatever kids are using nowadays to record off of television and set it to watch MCAT from 6 to 8 a.m on Sunday morning to see what actually happened.

  8. petetalbot

    Thanks for the comment, jhwygirl. It reminded me — I was negligent in not saying that booing and hissing are unacceptable at public meetings — as tempting as it might be at the time.

    I’ve been going by news reports and participants’ comments, so I’ll also try to get down to MCAT to view the episode (as 6 a.m. on Sunday is a little early for me).

  9. Roger Millar

    To summarize public outreach activity to date for the Missoula Zoning Code Rewrite process:

    One City Council Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss the scope of the rewrite in the context of the 2007 OPG Work Plan.

    10 City Council Plat Annexation and Zoning (PAZ) Committee meetings – 2 meetings focused on scope/contract discussion, 2 meetings on setting up the Advisory Group, and 6 meetings discussing the content of the rewrite.

    2 Planning Board meetings

    3 “Town Hall” Meetings – Meeting announcement mailings went to approximately 800 individuals or organizations who had previously attended a meeting, expressed interest in the project or were on our Interested Parties list. Email announcements went to approximately 500 individuals or organizations. A Press release was sent to all local media outlets, resulting in advance coverage/follow up stories from local Radio, TV, and/or Print media. Display Ads were placed in the Missoulian. All meetings were recorded by MCAT. Average attendance 88 citizens per meeting who actually signed in.

    37 Listening Sessions – focus group meetings of citizens with like interests (Neighborhood organizations, architects, lawyers, etc.)

    3 Community Forum presentations and discussions

    6 Neighborhood Council presentations and discussions

    8 Advisory Group (AG) Meetings – 6 of those AG meetings recorded by MCAT.

    9 E-Newsletters sent to approximately 500 interested parties

    There has been some criticism of the format of the Town Hall meetings – that citizens were not given the opportunity to testify at these events. Given the average attendance and assuming 45 minutes for presentation/question and answer and 3 minutes average per attendee for public testimony, these meetings could have lasted well over 5 hours each. This is simply not practical. The workshop format was adopted to provide a means for getting information out and having some community discussion within the framework of a 2-hour to 3-hour meeting.

    The Town Hall meetings are only one small part of our outreach efforts. Opportunities to provide formal public testimony to date have included:

    11 City Council committee meetings with the zoning code rewrite on the agenda

    2 Planning Board meetings with the zoning code rewrite on the agenda

    3 Community Forum meetings with the zoning code rewrite on the agenda

    Approximately 22 months of City Council, PAZ, Planning Board, and Community Forum meetings with opportunities to comment on items not on the agenda

    As we move forward in the coming months their will be substantial opportunity for additional public testimony, including public hearings before the Planning Board and the City Council, PAZ meetings, and other Council debate.

    Information on our public outreach efforts is available at http://www.zoningmissoula.com. Please give me a call or stop by if you would like additional detail.

    Roger

  10. goof houlihan

    “Do you know anything about the players, like Rectenwald or the head planner who got “miffed,” or the process or, really, any of the history of planning and zoning in Missoula? I didn’t think so”

    So now you’re answering your questions? Were they rhetorical, then?

    The answer, of course, is YES, I have met the planner and I have read Rectenwald’s statements and I do have some familiarity with Missoula’s planning and zoning history and processes.

    Now that I’ve answered your otherwise rhetorical questions, I’ll address your “charette” and “workshop” observations. Regardless of the made up “rules”, the law requires that there be a time set aside for the public to comment. Period. And it can be limited to three minutes, certainly. It’s the responsibility of the presiding officer to control the meeting, planning board president, perhaps.

    Booing and hissing isn’t evidence of a controlled or particularly well run meeting, either.

    I’m not all that enigmatic. Just goofy.

  11. goof houlihan

    Twenty five minutes is too long. Were the rules for public input explained at the beginning and was the public allowed unrestrained public comment, other than a time limit, at the beginning of the meeting, or, was it explained that anyone wishing to comment could do so at a time set aside for that?

    jh, yes, they can work. But before you ever get to the facilitated part of the meeting, you’ve GOT to have a time for unstructured input.

    You have to. It’s not just a good idea or even my goofy idea. The Mt Supreme court says it’s the law.

    Some people are going to show up and want to say something. It’s better to “welcome them” and let them speak, even if they go away mad because their comment period was limited. Didn’t I read, here, some trashing of Mayor Stebbins in Great Falls and her enforcing the three minute rule?

  12. goof houlihan

    Also, just as an aside, the neighborhoods and their organizations are the best measure of the “appropriate places” for infill, Pete. One thing’s not appropriate, and that’s swiveling lot lines 90 degrees and stuffing, ad hoc, extra houses into a lot where a neighborhood is all aligned one way towards the street.

    There are many places where 3500-5000 sq ft residential lots are allowed and that kind of purposeful density is appropriate. That doesn’t mean that it’s right to allow the house on the corner to cut a 12,000 sq ft lot in half or thirds and put a house in the backyard when the rest of the neighborhood or block remains at 12,000 sq ft and aligned to the street in front.

    That’s not planning. When I talk to Missoulians and I defend small lots, and “infill”, they come back with that example.

  13. You read some trashing here of Mayor Stebbins when he had the police forcefully remove a violator of the 3-minute rule from the council chambers.

    The City of Great Falls, BTW, has been successfully sued for failing to follow the law regarding public input. They’ve circumvented the public process – and continue to do so.

  14. goof – regarding your second paragraph in this comment – boundary line adjustments, as far as I know, are still state law. If someone is adjusting the boundary of their multiple lots, and not creating a non-conforming lot by zoning nor creating more lots than that of the original pre-boundary line adjustment lots, it seems to me that they’d have a right to build.

    I could be wrong – if I am, can you explain?

  15. To make matters more complicated, I’m not sure of the legality of doing boundary line adjustments when the lot that is created doesn’t meet zoning…or, perhaps better stated, I’m not sure of the legality of building on a lot that has undergone boundary line adjustment when the lot doesn’t meet minimum zoning qualifications.

    I don’t know how – regardless of how the neighborhood feels about it – that the city can deny a boundary line adjustment when state law allows it.

    Blame it on the state – but don’t blame it on the city.

  16. goof houlihan

    The “hypothetical” example I cited DID create additional lots, for example, three 3500 sq ft lots from a 12,000 sq ft lot, and city regulations requiring a regular pattern of alignment would make my example “non conforming” as well.

    Another regulation that might prevent such abuses is defining the alignment of back yards, side yards and front yards within approved subdivisions or as part of the overall regulation. “If the regular pattern by block is…” .

    What frustrates me is how many times I’ve seen one local government screwup cause a legislator to go and write a law that hamstrings all local governments, and with one less than careful approach to one lady, suddenly there’s the whole “tyranny” of local government. Being aggressive when it comes to policy is quite different from carefully observing public participation requirements…even in one meeting.

    “You read some trashing here of Mayor Stebbins when he had…”

    Mayor Stebbins actions were justified as a presiding officer in charge of enforcing civil order in a public meeting. Your response about the City of Great Falls’ failure to produce documents is a diversion from the point, which is that SHE was criticized here for fulfilling HER role as presiding officer…elected presiding officer at that, not some out of state hired consultant not running a decent meeting that allows for public input and participation and which consequently descends into rants and booing and hissing and other alleged misbehavior from participants.

  17. goof houlihan

    Also, to answer in “theory”, since all planning and zoning ultimately has to hinge on “health safety and welfare”, I’d say that orderly lot alignment facilitates the provision of emergency services such as police and fire and ambulance.

  18. goof- first of all, no one used the word “hypothetical.”

    All city lots here in town – where those alley houses were created – are of the same size. There aren’t 12,000 foot lots and 3,500 foot lots on the same block. There are people who own 3, 4, 5 – mulitiple lots – and have one house on them. But they are 3, 4, 5 or multiple lots with multiple legal descriptions and only one house. Multiple legally created lots, whether they were created in 1878 or 1903. Plenty of these lots don’t now meet the zoning placed on them in 1913. Plenty do.

    So, yes, there are situations where a person owned multiple lots and had one home on them, but then underwent boundary line adjustment, changing the lot lines from a street-to-alley configuration by 90 degrees. Again: That is state law that allows that.

    No where in the city limits are there lots – residential lots – that are 12,000 feet in size. I am not aware of those. People may not like alley houses, but their fix isn’t in city hall – it’s in the capital.

    You point out health and safety…but again – the solution there doesn’t even lie with zoning – keep in mind, those lots were legally created and boundary adjusting them is allowed by state laws- the solution lies, if there is one and it is possible, in building and engineering code where the requirement to build a house allows for access wider than a typical alley (20 feet), etc. And even then, if the claim is going to be health and safety, it would have to be shown that more than 20 feet width is needed for health and safety.

    Is it?

    As far as I know, alleys are public roads – they’re accessed and maintained by public works, and big old garbage trucks get through them.

    Let me go a bit further – and perhaps repeating my earlier point – I don’t believe that building a house on boundary line adjusted lots where the lots that are adjusted don’t meet current zoning standards is appropriate. You have to meet zoning code. I don’t know that I give a crap about whether a house is on the alley or on the street – people can live like they wish to a degree – but the lot needs to meet the zoning code.

    Frankly, what if I had a 30 x 125 foot lot and wanted to build the house on the alley and put my garage up front on the street? I’d be breaking the law under the scenario that you put forth. Are you that much of a regulator?

    Might look ugly. Might not make sense – but it’s my property and there is no law that prohibits me from doing it.

  19. petetalbot

    Some final observations and then I’ll let others hash things out here in the comments section (which, by the way, I find quite informative — especially the goof/jhwygirl back-and-forth):

    Thanks, Roger Millar, for the outreach information on the zoning code rewrite — seems pretty exhaustive to me.

    Goof, yes, those were rhetorical questions. I find I like my own answers to my own questions.

    Also, to your “health, safety and welfare” comment — I know the city won’t ignore these issues. I have my own little money-losing project going on in the Rattlesnake and the hoops I’ve had to jump through to facilitate police, fire and ambulance are enough to turn me into a Republican … almost.

    And goof, design standards. Wouldn’t neighborhood design standards go a long way in alleviating infill concerns and still allow for a small ‘mother-in-law’ home in an alley?

    Plus, just because a zoning rewrite might allow for an alley home, is everyone going to rush out and build one? I imagine there are a lot of homeowners that want their back yards left in tact.

    Finally, my use of the term “dumb growthers” in my original post probably wasn’t the most diplomatic. But what does one call folks who are against smart growth?

  20. klemz

    Smart growth is a euphemism, Pete — one designed so that people like you would ask exactly that question.

    That’s not to say I disagree with its tenants.

  21. petetalbot

    One final thing, klemz — how can “smart growth” be a euphemism if it has tenants?

  22. Freeranger

    Conservatives are such cry babies! Wahhh! Where was Rob Natelson’s outrage over manners and public meetings when conservationists were threatened at a Forest Service meeting in Darby?

    I am guessing that all the city councilors who are so against the zoning changes actually live in areas zoned for large lots and single family residences. These zoning areas will change little to none in the rewrite being studied. In fact, I think one change is to actually reduce the max height of buildings and to close a loophole in building on slopes that allowed for overly tall buildings, in the A zoned areas.

    So the conservative cry babies want to tell the rest of us how to live in our city. And when they realize that they are in the minority, it hurts their heads. They can’t believe it. Conspiracy! Wahhh!

  23. klemz

    The same way national socialism can.

    A euphemism is just a strategic label, it has nothing to do with the meat of the idea.

  24. The whole hillside regulations chapter was nothing more than recommendations due to the use of “may” instead of “shall.” Let’s hope they’re clearing that up, as it is ridiculous to have a whole chapter in the zoning regulations that aren’t worth a hill of beans in terms of regulatory authority.

    Only bankers are embracing socialism these days. Ain’t that ironic?

  25. klemz

    Easy, some of us come from banking stock.

    … but two points for proper use of irony.

  26. goof houlihan

    “One final thing, klemz — how can “smart growth” be a euphemism if it has tenants?”

    That is funny! Does it have landlords, too?

  27. goof houlihan

    “But what does one call folks who are against smart growth?”

    What does one call folks who are for it? Disciples? That’s the rub, isn’t it, “smart growth” just can’t be challenged…otherwise I’m just “dumb”, or maybe apostate.

  28. klemz

    Tenet, bleh. This is the problem with being from the northern midwest.

  29. goof houlihan

    Well, there are lots of almost every size and shape in the city, I’d guess, jh. I live on a 13025 sq ft lot, and yes, I’m in the city. There are half acre lots in the city.

    And yes, I’m quite in favor of regulations to protect neighborhoods.

    “Alley houses” in my part of the country are called “ADUs” or “Accessory dwelling units”. In every instance, they are “conditional uses” and are banned in R-1, our least dense residential zoning. I think they’re inappapropriate in a college town. What they do is take advantage of their neighbors by turning garages into apartments full of college students drinking on the balcony and leering into the neighbors windows and backyards. It’s a way of artificially upping the value of a lot beyond what it should be worth by adding a rental income to the property, or “another rental income” to the property.

    “As far as I know, alleys are public roads – they’re accessed and maintained by public works, and big old garbage trucks get through them.”

    Nope, they’re not. They are certainly NOT roads or, “streets”, as we call them here in the urban environment, heh heh. In some cases, they are only easements, too.

    And you don’t address houses on “112 Between two sTreets Alley”, either, which makes 911 and emergency services twitch pretty hard. City streets have setbacks and turning (I don’t know how to spell the plural of “radius”) and access and any other number of engineering requirements for streets that don’t apply to alleys.

    There’s a difference between county and city planning and zoning regulations, at least where I come from. I doubt there are conservation overlays and entry way corridor overlays and neighborhood overlays in the county. Doing what you said, realigning the lots and the block, would violate conservation overlays.

    And I’m NOT talking hypothetically either, when I talk about not permitting > 10,000 sq ft lots to be split and turned 90 degrees.

    I don’t have a problem building houses on each of the multiple lots, but I do have a problem turning them 90 degrees and re-platting that block of the subdivision. I think moving some lot lines around out in the county is quite different from changing lots under good city regulations.
    .

  30. Couch

    In the interest of disclosure I am married to a senior planner at OPG and I’m friends with and live in the same neighborhood as several folks who were on the Local Government Study Commission. I was not able to attend the planning workshop that Ms. Rechtenwald wrote of and have only read and heard about the meetings events. To me, the results as I understand them fit a pattern, one I have seen many times over the years.

    Jane Rchtenwald’s recent Missoulian guest column once again situates her as the central spokesperson of one of Missoula’s most vocally active minority groups – a faction of affluent homeowners dedicated to promoting its own particular definition of “neighborhood preservation.” Ms. Rechtenwald, not too long ago, assumed a similar role on the City’s Local Government Study Commission. In a style similar to her recent performance at the zoning rewrite workshop, she unsuccessfully attempted to ram rod the Study Commission’s findings into her special interest group’s predetermined mold for a changed city government. The result will be remembered as one of the most flawed and divisive exercises of civic process ever seen in Missoula.

    At the time, the minority homeowner group was very interested in changing the form of Missoula’s government to a city manager system in which the head of municipal administration would be hired and fired at the will of City Council rather than elected by the voters. An almost comically faulty presumption of this proposed change would have been an imagined administrative clean sweep at the Office of Planning and Grants (OPG) in which all the personnel held in disfavor by the minority homeowners would be fired.

    So how did the democratically elected office of mayor and the staff of OPG become so reviled? It really all goes back to Missoula government’s “third rail” – residential zoning – the locus of the current homeowner fury. In 1996, near the end of Dan Kemmis’ tenure as mayor, under threat of suit by the Montana Human Rights Network, Missoula City Council rescinded its Family Definition ordinance. That ordinance was designed to restrict the number of unrelated people who could live in a single family home and was the darling of the minority homeowner group. OPG earned the enmity of the minority block by also recommending the elimination of this ordinance because its inherent discriminatory overtones placed it in violation of Federal Fair Housing Act requirements. That local noncompliance could have jeopardized federal funds coming to Missoula for low and moderate-income housing development.

    In 2001, not compelled by the potential loss of federal funding for housing for people less well off than themselves, the disgruntled homeowners brought back the rescinded “family definition” ordinance under the guise of “occupancy standards.” A new City Council, more sympathetic to the minority homeowners, passed this new discriminatory (as judged by the City Attorney) ordinance only to see in vetoed in September of 2002 by Mayor Mike Kadas. Adding to the wrath of the special interest group, Mayor Kadas and OPG had worked (as was their mandate) to implement housing tools enacted by the City Council of the late 1990’s – ones that included density bonuses and planned neighborhood cluster housing. These housing tools were deemed threatening to both the minority homeowners’ “quality of life” and property values, attributes not easily separable by them.

    In her approach to community participation, Ms. Rechtenwald exemplifies what can be synthesized as a long-standing five-point strategy of the disgruntled homeowners:

    1. Seek to monopolize and control the agenda of every important political forum or every important public meeting with the strident voices of our group.
    2. Portray elected representatives and public employees who are not on board with our agenda as derelict in duty and “not listening to the public.”
    3. Oppose any true broadening of the democratic base out of fear that our group may not be able to control the result.
    4. When losing political traction, stall for time; we can’t lose a process that never ends.
    5. If, in the end, loss seems inevitable, discredit the process and claim it was biased, exclusionary or illegally conducted from beginning to end – fight any attempt at implementation.

    Despite what Ms. Rechtenwald portrays as the Study Commission’s central findings, the group’s minutes of December 13, 2005 cite the consultant, Earl de Berge, reporting that nine out of ten residents found Missoula a good place to live. He thought the single most important finding was that the decisions government makes need to be better placed in the context of a coherent vision for the future – one that citizens can understand. A disconnect occurs if citizens who want to be more involved feel their contributions are ignored. As he was quoted then, “Democracy is about giving power to the people to make decisions.”

    We seem to be reaching a culmination point for the vocal minority’s engagement of the zoning rewrite process. As on the City’s Study Commission, Ms. Rechtenwald first tried to bully the working group with foregone conclusions and prepared statements and when rebuffed for it, quickly transformed into the posture of an aggrieved victim. Most dangerously, less martyrs than egregious scolds, she and her special interest cohorts poison the civic well so effectively that they can discourage other citizens from drinking from it.

  31. goof houlihan

    klemz, I was quoting, and I thought, after reading the whole thread, that it was the point of your “irony” post, too.

    Ironical, in that smart growth indeed encourages many more rentals…hence…”tenants”. But maybe that wasn’t the irony you found.

  32. goof houlihan

    And JH, you would not be allowed to put your house in the back and the garage on the street. The front door of the primary dwelling has to be only so far back from the garage….it’s one of the “tenets” of good urban design.

  33. goof houlihan

    So, what is the definition of a “single family”, or a “single family home”, then, Couch?

  34. Goof – regarding that front door placement – it’d have to be in code. It’s not.

    Going back to you last paragraph here: Nothing in the zoning code prohibits it, and state law allows it. Currently, there is nothing illegal about those boundary line adjustment where the lot size meets the minimum square footage under zoning. Not one councilperson – even Jerry Ballas, who successfully sued the city for allowing a boundary line adjustment that resulted in a lot that didn’t meet the minimum zoning (the city having also issued a building permit) – never proposed an amendment to the zoning regs that would prohibit these alley houses that resulted.

    Couch – thanks. A great synopsis of the history of hatred against OPG and city zoning, in general. Law might be law, but the vocal minority wants what it wants, future lawsuits be damned.

    Like Bill Clinton, in Missoula it’s all OPG’s fault.

  35. “he that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty
    he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”-Thomas Paine.

    sorry j-girl and pete but i must dissent on this. i think roger was a little too taken over by emotion on this one and overstepped the bounds of his position.

  36. goof houlihan

    jh, good reasons to rewrite the Missoula’s “code”. Some cities do have those provisions in “code”, aka “unified development ordinances”. I think that’s Missoula’s problem, trying to overlay modern ideas over a badly outdated base and it bit them hard with the alley house/subdivision plat amendments.

    It wouldn’t take the state capitol, only the right city ordinances.

    A 21st century code might ignore most exclusionary zoning and instead substitute a “performance based” code. Missoula could take that leap past any other city in Montana.

  37. One of the best things the City is doing is hiring consultants to do it. Planners aren’t attorneys. The current code is such that it requires a good bit of interpretation and is able to get very little in terms of enforcement because the attorneys on either side pull their magic.

    Years past the city hired consultants at great cost, but then the planning board and the council went and chopped at it, creating the resulting product.

    One hope I have for this current document is that the planning board and the council keep from the urge to wordsmith things into unusable nonregulatory phrases (like the entire hillside ‘regs’ I cite above) and stick to the results of the numerous public meetings and the work that the consultants did.

    You should see the book the front desk planners pull out when you hit OPG. It’s huge. Mine isn’t. We need a simple to read, clear and concise document. No one on either side of the counter (and at times we’re talking surveyors and engineers) wants to have to head down to OPG to make sure they’re reading things correctly. That’s ridiculous.

  38. Pete, Prof. Natelson wouldn’t need to be there 24/7 to know it happened. He need only witness the event. Whether he did or not I don’t know.

    Alternatively, though, for you to state unequivocally that it did not happen would put you in the difficult position of proving a negative. Thus, my comment to the effect that you don’t really know it didn’t happen despite your statement.

    As far as trusting the “various reporters’ accounts,” that is a non sequitor. Just because a reporter did not witness it or did not report it does not mean it didn’t happen.

    Which brings me back to my original point. Rather than stating emphatically that something is or is not true, when you have no idea whether it is or is not true, why not just state why you find Prof. Natelson’s version not credible and let the reader decide, as opposed to misleading the reader to think you know something that you do not?

  39. Perhaps Prof. Natelson should prove the positive of which he states, and prove it did happen.

    While Millar and Rectenwald may have had an exchange of words, the emotionally charged scene which she puts forth is at question – the “red face, shaking and clearly angry” director- apparently in a room filled with departing participants – telling her that he would “throw her out” of the meeting should she bring up information from other cities.

    Pretty darn theatrical, for one – and pretty unrealistic considering that Millar is no young puppy when it comes to both planning (which is politically and emotionally charged no matter where you come from) and public meetings.

    She now “doesn’t feel safe” and feels “threatened and intimidated” to the point where she can’t attend another public meeting where Millar attends? Seriously? That doesn’t sound just a little over the top?

    Rectenwald would have done her agenda a whole hell of a lot better had she laid off the theatrics – but now she’s placed herself in a position of (1) not coming to any more meeting should Millar attend, and we all know that ain’t going to happen, or (2) trying to get the guy fired, which we all know ain’t going to happen.

  40. klemz

    You’re wrong. They’re actually being quite effective.

  41. klemz

    Not at getting Millar fired, that is, but at what they really want to accomplish.

  42. Effective at what? This is another example of wanting exactly what they’re bitching about. Alley houses were eliminated before she made her tirade. She should at least try and be familiar with the document. Then she’s complaining about heights. Has she (or you) looked at the code to see the current maximum heights in the various zoning districts? Looked at the homes currently built? Keep in mind ‘changing our neighborhoods’ is her complaint.

    So on one side of the coin she charges that the current process isn’t a zoning rewrite, it’s a change of the code, yet on the other side of the coin, she’d advocating to take height away from neighborhoods that already have certain heights and have used it. And I’m not talking in the last 5 years – I’m talking the last 80 or 90 years.

    I mean, I’ve argued above that the damned document is a mess to try and read, but some of this stuff is pretty basic.

    Further, she’s one of the ones that have made OPG out to be evil, yet she advocates in her letter to get rid of the consultants and let the staff right the thing.

    You can’t keep her happy, and the fact that she is saying “no” to a document with which she has no familiarity with either the current or the draft new one is showing, to say the least.

    It’s not like I’ve not been critical of OPG, and Pete, for jimminy crickets, is a ‘developer’ himself.

    I mean, government – city staff – has to work within some laws and regulations. Yes? People just can’t get up and say “no” to everything. It creates chaos. It’s not fair to property owners or developers or anyone.

  43. klemz

    At getting a topic with 42 comments… ah, 43.

  44. I never realized anyone but a handful of people paid attention.

  45. klemz

    Most don’t. They just see “OPG” and the accusations.

  46. i would hope that the accusations are not true and that a public official working for the taxpayers of missoula couny did not approach a citizen, however annoying, and dissuade her from participating in an invited public forum but i cannot help but notice that the sound of silence on the part of mr millar himself is deafening.

    it is never wise to try to stifle opposition when it is ineffective and annoying. i usually step out of the way and pay out more rope…

  47. Millar is in a lose-lose. He can’t prove a negative (he can’t prove it didn’t happen) – and both Jane and Natelson know it, problembear.

  48. if it comes then, to his word against hers. which as i understand it is a stalemate, he doesn’t necessarily have to prove anything – just tell what happened. if he lost his temper and in retrospect actually did say something he now regrets then the best action is to come forward and acknowledge what it was that he actually said and apologize. silence just does not serve anything at this point. we all lose our tempers from time to time. none of us is perfect. whatever happened has probably been blown out of proportion by jane and rob. silence just allows people to believe the worst. i would bet money it was a very small mistake nowhere near the magnitude that jane and rob are making it out to be but silence just allows it to fester like bacteria. air is the best way to defeat it.

  49. TheKritik

    I like the zoning rewrite. It will clarify things, but more importantly provide important tools for our community. Having smaller lot homes will combat the effects of high land prices. Conservation subdivisions might (just might) allow houses and open space (I’m still advocating for farmland as well) to coexist. Some administrative review instead of public hearings for small adjustments. The list goes on…

    I’d like to see the apartment buildings that actually just look like one large house (I have seen them in books…) but I don’t know what they’re called or what kind of design standards won’t freak neighbors out.

    On the public process… the rewrite has been in the news enough times, people should know about it. If you have an item of concern, ask someone about it… now!

    Relatedly, I have on multiple occasions been told by high ranking officials not to “speak too much” in front of the City Council or they might stop listening. I don’t believe that’s true with all council members, but it’s still shocking to know that officials DO discourage participation (even if it’s not outright bullying… I don’t think anyone is really a bully). My advice: talk anyway. If you’re upset, fine. Just be respectful and try to cover the important points “on camera” and talk it over afterwards.

    So… I give up. People are getting really upset about the rewrite and yet there are plenty of people (progressives, builders, developers, and more… aw, politics) who would like to see it move forward. Why don’t we all chill out, read the damn proposed ordinance (10-15 pages a night), and start acting constructive about building Missoula’s future? Jeez…

  50. goof houlihan

    I see my answer to most of the Prof’s great ideas to bring the hammer down on cities finally appeared from the spam filter. Unneccessarily personal, I was, but still it showed just how on the side of “home rule” I am. Most of the “let’s go to the legislature and get this shut down” is caused by these little picadilloes, not necessarily Missoula ones, either. .

    However Missoula, or Whitefish, or Bozeman moves forward with enlightened and citizen driven land use regulation, I hope it doesn’t cause an army of special bills at the legislature aimed at shutting down evil local governments whose elected representatives act for their constituents to determine how they want their locality to grow and define the nature of the urban environment. It’s that balancing act that places a particularly important responsibility of elected officials and their professional planners to behave decorously and carefully and without rancor for those that oppose them.

  51. sopko

    John, since when were Missoula homeowners classified as in the “minority”? Any data to substatiate that claim?

  52. I really have no dog in this fight (We have enough of our own problems in Great Falls!)

    My only criticism was one of logic. If one is going to make an unequivocal statement about what did or did not happen, and then try to minimize another (“scary”) based upon that statement, the person asserting its truth ought to have some basis for that assertion.

    Pete Talbot doesn’t “know” what happened or didn’t happen. He assumed the burden of proving the negative by asserting it did not happen. He didn’t say “I doubt it happened,” or “that doesn’t sound like it probably happened,” he said Rectenwald’s version is “just plain untrue.”

  53. petetalbot

    Hey, Jane, you out there? It seems like the only way to put this one point to bed is to hear from you. I looked for an email for you but couldn’t find it. So, as I wrote in my post:

    “Rob (Natelson) goes on to state that, ‘a city official told her (Rectenwald) never to attend a Missoula public hearing again!’ which is just plain untrue.”

    If you would be so kind as to tell me who, where and when this all transpired, I will print a retraction, in bold, at the top of this post. Thanks.

  1. 1 Where’s the vision, man? « Bunk in the West

    […] the night, or else Mayor Engen might have to cut people off mid-rant. Heck, if Lee Clemensen or Jane Rectenwald or Professor Frey or Celeste Rivers get going, it should be a good show. Better set your TiVo to […]




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