Zoning rewrite petition revisited

by Pete Talbot

(As usual, jhwygirl beat me to the punch here. I have some additional links and comments, though, on the petition drive.)

Please, before signing the anonymous petition that’s spreading fear and misinformation about Missoula’s zoning rewrite, get the facts. Here is an information sheet from the Office of Planning and Grants. Here’s the petition (note the clever graphic of the small boy mowing the lawn while a skyscraper is erected in his backyard). Fact One: no person or group is taking responsibility for the petition. That should be a clue.

One of the comments on the Missoula City listserve was this:

Bob (Jaffe, Ward 3 Councilman), I suggest the petition is nothing more than politics-as-usual…and has little to do with the proposed zoning code. Roger (Millar, of OPG) and OPG and Duncan Associates needn’t spend time and energy in responding.

There’s an election coming up. Wedge issues are being formed. The petition is quite explicit about who’s being set up as targets: “Mayor Engen, city planners, and City Council members who advocate greater density.” Those who sign the petition are simply being asked (a) to invest themselves into political positions and (b) to provide contact information to political campaigns.

This statement is very accurate, but I’d also suggest that whoever is circulating this petition believes that the zoning rewrite is the death knell for neighborhoods and is trying to get others just as scared. OPG, the mayor’s office and council should respond.

In her post, jhwygirl poses the question as to whether the anonymous petition is violating campaign law. I’m no lawyer (collective sigh of relief) but I’ve been involved in a few campaigns. At this point, since the petition isn’t aimed at a candidate or issue that’s on any ballot, I’d say no. However, if it is used as an organizing tool to raise money, elect or defeat candidates, or sway opinion on a ballot issue in the upcoming municipal elections, then whoever is behind the petition would need to file as a political action committee.


  1. I would agree that there is a political constituency out there that doesn’t feel as though they are being heard and are (again) organizing. The big question is their choice of tactics.

    But, did anyone care to check the Planning Department’s response? I know, I know, the planning department didn’t inform you of the changes to your zoning and it takes quite a bit of effort to ferret around the DuncanChicago website to find out. Somehow I’m not quite sure they are being completely truthful, either. This is a rezoning of your property and the planning department continues to pass it off as a minor rewrite.

    The author of the petition correctly identifies the fundamental issues of the rezoning:

    The issue of alley houses was, is, and will be one of the most controversial aspects of this rewrite.

    In most residential zones, the maximum allowed height can been increased typically from 30 to 35 feet. This will allow more 3 story homes to be built.

    By allowing more attached units in residential zones, side setbacks are being reduced and in some cases eliminated as multi-dwelling units are built over lotlines.

    To suggest that zoning doesn’t control parking is disingeneous as zoning very clearly controls density.

    Most of the concerns about this rezoning are about density. The planning department is very clear in that they want to allow more houses in the established neighborhoods. The affordable housing crowd believes Missoula needs more density and less sprawl (I happen to agree). The organizers of this petition clearly don’t want more neighbors crowded into their neighborhood.

  2. goof houlihan

    “On-street parking is not now and will not in the future be
    controlled by the zoning ordinance. ”

    This seems to be the most “misleading” of anything I read. As Binky says, “disingenuous”. Of course on street parking is controlled by the requirements of on site parking. Not counting on street parking as contributing to the number of parking spaces required per dwelling is a great way to keep on street parking open.

    We do know new urbanist planners have increased street congestion and more competition for reduced parking as high priorities. This is to “de-emphasize the automobile.” They also go absolutely ga-ga over packing incompatible densities into otherwise healthy neighborhoods and are willing to suspend almost any other rule to accomplish these goals. Never mind that health, safety and welfare, the charges to local government, are best served by adequate roads and parking, as well as respecting the original design of successful neighborhoods.

    Worshippers at the altar of density would do well to heed Jane’s admonition that her observations about great american cities do not translate into smaller cities or towns.

    I’d sign the petition. What are the new urbanists afraid of? If the zoning is good, it will survive an election! If not, well, then, the people have spoken. Likewise for those council members supporting new urbanist ideas. The tired ideas of the automobile centric society are dead, right? Nobody shops at WalMart anymore, right?

  3. UrbanCowboy

    One man’s experience on the possible unintended consequences. Reprinted comment from New West

    By Tuck Miller, 4-19-09
    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.

  4. TheKritik

    At the Missoula ADAPT Zoning Open House yesterday, John Hendrickson passed out the protest petition to attendees. The paper trail shouldn’t be hard to follow…

  1. 1 The Not-So-Anonymous Zoning Petition and the Yellow-Bellied Rants of John Hendrickson « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] did a post on the anonymous petition, which included a link to the office of planning & grants’ response to the […]

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