by Pete Talbot

After a pitcher of Badlander IPA, the mayor and the planners relaxed, and then gave a concise and passionate argument for the Missoula Zoning Rewrite.

The title of the event sucked me in: “Everybody Must Get Zoned.” But it turned out to be a straight-forward look at the zoning process and policy, and what Missoula could be in the future.

Missoula’s zoning laws, except for some tweaking here-and-there, are 30-to-50-years-old — based on an Ozzie and Harriet family model. The demographics in Missoula, however, have changed.  Now, 22 percent are single family, and then there’s the rest of us (mixed families, singles, empty-nesters, students, retired) but we’re still zoned like it’s the 1950’s.

OPG Director Roger Millar and senior planner Mike Barton were with the mayor at the invitation of Forward Montana. It was informal, about 35 people at the Badlander: politicos, seniors, organizers, students and folks like me.

Mayor Engen reminded everyone that it’s been a two-year, open-to-the-public, process. All points of view are in play and there are no deal breakers. Millar spoke to the history of zoning — laws that basically said ‘no’ to how we develop instead of ‘yes’ to what we’d like to see. Barton talked about specifics and how the rewrites would make laws clearer.

All three speakers have been around the block, understand Missoula, and have a vision for what’s going to sustain and enhance our community.

To hear the critics, the proposed zoning changes would have a radical impact on our neighborhoods. What I heard seemed pretty mild to me: minor changes in lot size and density calculations and height allowance, etc.; maybe some B&B’s, and accessory dwelling units here-and-there. The kind of things forward-looking cities have been doing for awhile.

I didn’t take my notebook, again, so I’m paraphrasing at best. I needed to get out of the house, have a beverage and catch up on local stuff, so this was a good diversion on a late March, wintry evening. I’m glad I went and was encouraged by what I heard.

Please folks, get involved. Here’s the info, and if you can’t make it to a planning meeting or talk to your ward representative or go to a PAZ committee meeting, at least you can comment. This is an opportunity to shape the future of Missoula.

  1. Tuesday, April 7th will be a Planning Board hearing on Overlay Districts (after they finish reviewing a subdivision). Wednesday, April 8th will be a Planning Board hearing on legal issues surrounding the rewrite. While both are VERY important, I’d recommend people show up for the Wednesday hearing to get a better sense of where opponents to the rewrite are coming from.

    Both hearings start at 7 pm in City Council Chambers next to Sean Kelly’s.

    Also, Missoula ADAPT will host an Open House on Sunday, April 19 from 2-4 pm at the Broadway Inn. This will be a good opportunity to see how the regulations might affect you, your neighborhood, and your business. All are welcomed and it will be very informal and informative.

    Please contact me if you have any questions at or 543-4423.

    Zoning can be interesting (and fun). Come learn about how our community may grow over the next few decades!

  2. Beudreaux

    I have to point out a very funny thing that Millar asked the group at progressive happy hour…

    Millar: “How many people here today work for a living?”

    “And how many people in here live off of trust funds?”

    [Room goes silent. A couple people laugh.]

    I thought this was brilliant. The elephant in the room, and in Missoula county it appears.

    The questions gave a good context for his moving forward into a spirited support for the Zoning Rewrite, and how “one type of living doesn’t work for every type of person.”

  3. Beudreaux

    [Frustrated that you would post a plug from an MBIA guy, but, for some reason, you will not post a comment from an average joe person.]

    • These two got caught in spam. Can’t figure out why (I tried) – jhwygirl

    • Beudreaux:

      I make $32K a year and can’t afford to own my own home. I don’t qualify for subsidy, however, so I have to struggle to make ends meet. Which part is not “average joe” exactly?


      • Beudreaux

        You’re speaking on behalf of an organization Mr. Morton. Your salary and social standing are irrelevant. I, on the other hand, was speaking as a random anonymous “joe,” who is not on the payroll and have no organizational stake in the issue. Hence the frustration when I thought my comments were being filtered.

  4. DemocracyMsla

    It’s my understanding that the people will not be allowed to vote on this rezoning-rewrite and the significant changes that may come to their neighborhoods. Do you know why the Council won’t let Missoulians have an up or down say in this?
    I would respectfully suggest that the document be reviewed over the summer giving an adequate amount of time for all of folks to have their ideas folded into it. The final draft could then be presented to the voters in November during the general election. This would cost the city very little and certainly less than the $250,000 the consultants will have been paid and give all Missoulians a clear choice.
    Will the MBIA or Forward Montana or someone please refer or ask the council to do this or at least start the public conversation about a vote? Who on the council wouldn’t allow Missoulians to vote on this and why wouldn’t they?

  5. I think someone has already taken up that idea (referendum) and it may happen. I believe there are protest petitions going around too. Consider coming to the Planning Board hearings or the Council hearings to make your request.

    MBIA is staying out of the process issues as we are represented at all the meetings and win/lose items of importance to us. Excuse the upcoming pun and colloquialism, but it’s all part of the process. I’m also not sure if a referendum will be very clear to people, but if that’s what happens so be it.

    Please come to our Open House to review the rewrite. We’ll have comment cards just in case there’s a question we couldn’t answer for you. We’d really like you to learn more about the changes and see what your neighborhood could look like. It will be non-confrontational, informative, casual, and hopefully enjoyable!

  6. Jim Lang

    I think it would be a waste of money to hold a referendum on zoning. But maybe it would be worth it to show the just-say-no crowd that they really are in the minority.

  7. DemocracyMsla

    I simply don’t think ADU’s ( tiny student rentals) are a good way to maintain the health and welfare of our community as well as the character of our single family neighborhoods and I think a majority of folks in many established neighborhoods feel that way. Despite this being shouted out and the offer of some in the process to withdraw ADU’s from the rezoning effort ,converting single family lots into multi family uses continues to make it’s way through the process. I believe that a parcel of land zoned single family residential should have strong protections not a path to weasel a rental unit into my neighbor’s backyard. I believe this zoning document should listen to the screams coming from the owners of single family homes in established neighborhoods and outlaw the entire idea of ADU’s.
    If you want to build multi family, buy a lot zoned for it. What is so complicated about that? The consultant hears it but the city isn’t listening because they have an agenda that conflicts with those homeowners that do not want their neighborhood to have any chance of being rezoned to allow multi family uses. We have asked that the city ban the ADU’s yet we haven’t seen any action towards implementing those protections for us, rather we watch folks review the rezoning document argue about which direction windows can face on an ADU.
    We ban casinos in neighborhoods, we ban 4 plexes in neighborhoods , why can’t we ban ADU”S?

  8. ADU’s would require a rezoning similar to rezoning from single to multifamily zones. The change really isn’t significant. It just makes the accessory dwelling an express use upon a rezone.

    The same right of neighbor protest will persist just like other rezones.

    Upon adoption, existing ADU’s will be nonconforming and not allowed by right in any zone. A property owner would have to request a rezone to build a new ADU.

    There is also a neighborhood character overlay that can be used to prevent ADU’s and other items neighborhoods don’t want. That should allow neighborhoods to find regulations that truly protect their neighborhood. I’d be happy to walk you through it anytime.

  9. goof houlihan

    ADU’s in college towns are a bad idea. What really happens is that both the adu and the main dwelling get rented out and the value of the property goes UP as it becomes multiple rentals. Also the on street parking becomes that much more impacted.

    The duplexification of single family neighborhoods is a bad idea.

    You could require that the primary residence be lived in by the owner before an adu could be applied for, make it a conditional use, with that condition, and add a periodic review with proof of residence by the owner.

    It doesn’t promote affordable housing. Instead, it promotes rentals rentals and more rentals into established neighborhoods.

    Another good idea for adu’s is to prohibit them in all cases where they would need deviations in parking, lot size, setbacks or other regulations.

  10. Again, ADU’s will be nonconforming after the rewrite and would require a rezone by a property owner. Noone will have a right to build an ADU if the rewrite passes. Further, the ADU Overlay district has performance standards about setbacks and parking and lot coverage and the like. These standards are meant to protect neighbors from the impact of the ADU.

    Please come to the open house on April 19th if you would like to go over the issue in person. We’ll have a private sector planner explaining that part of the ordinance and walking you through what it means and perhaps show you some photos.

  11. petetalbot

    Goof, it sounds like you’re making a good argument FOR ADU’s. Sure, unrestricted ADU’s could be bad for a neighborhood but as you point out, there are ways to make them work: the owner lives in the primary residence; address the parking, lot size and setback issues; design standards …

    I’m aware of some really nice ADU’s in single-family neighborhoods inhabited by an elderly in-law or young married couple.

    What’s your problem with rentals? Not everyone can afford to be a homeowner in Missoula and there are many, responsible renters who treat their rentals like their own homes. The irresponsible ones? Well, that’s why you have codes and laws. (Trust me, I know some slovenly, obnoxious homeowners, too.)

    The other fact I heard was that when an ADU overlay is placed on a community, it’s not like everyone in the neighborhood rushes out and converts their garage or builds a cottage in their backyard. Over the years, maybe 10 percent take advantage of the ADU status.

  12. goof houlihan

    I’m definitely not arguing for ADUs. They’re as I described, a good way to take advantage of the neighbors. The limited amount of on street parking will disappear. The privacy you once experienced in your backyard? Gone, as the people in the second floor over the garage next door leer into your backyard and rear windows.

    So what I’m suggesting is that, if the planners absolutely have to go with the not so latest or greatest idea, you know, that all “progressive” towns simply must have, then at least put some decent controls on them. REQUIRE that the primary residence be inhabited by the owner. Limit the number of bedrooms in an adu to one. Even better, don’t allow it to be rented. Keep them “mother in law” apartments that can be used as an accessory by a family member.

    The idea that one person can request a zoning change to the “adu zone” so that one lot can be a different zone than the rest of the block seems to me to be ridiculous. Can you say, “spot zoning extraordinaire”? Tiny microzones, eh? Where’s the predictability in that? (Predictability is one of the primary reasons for zoning)

    “what do I have against rentals?”. Well Pete, “what do you have against your wife?”. Yes, one of those loaded questions I will call anyone on. Rentals are fine. Lots of people rent houses, or a duplex or an apartment or a mobile home. It’s really all about design, and compatibility, and predictablity. Duplexes are designed with sufficient parking off street, or fourplexes or apartments, with proper design and care for privacy and parking are therefore compatible within the neighborhoods.

    So there’s nothing wrong with rentals when the neighborhood and the lots and the structures themselves are designed to be rentals. A person could argue that zoning is unnecessary, and that it’s all about design. In that case, ADUs that are jammed into neighborhoods never designed for all the additional traffic, parking, etc, still aren’t the answer.

    In a brand new neighborhood, of single family homes, could they be designed with ADUs? Well, tried THAT, too, and again, what results is that these lots/homes are less affordable because they demand a premium, and frequently turn into duplexes with both the primary residence and the adu being rented out. Six or eight or ten people, with cars, and a snowmobile trailer, and a boat, crammed into a 7000 sq ft lot with 75% of it covered by structure, in an area zoned ostensibly for single family homes.

    So my take on ADUs in a college town? Mother in law apartments last as long as the mother in law. Then they become rentals, followed soon after by the primary residence becoming a rental. You turn homes into “income properties”.

    That’s my experience.

  13. Properties could rezone to multifamily now and put a second unit on a lot. It’s really not a big change except there are important performance standards (including lot coverage) that are added. You wouldn’t have the same standards in a rezoning to multifamily. Arguably, the rewrite provides more protection than we have currently.

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