Archive for the ‘Growth’ Category

by jhwygirl

Not sure how this is flying under the radar – and maybe there’s a reason, huh? – but Missoula Redevelopment Authority (MRA) has apparently set its sights on the Hotel Fox LLC for redevelopment of the old Fox Theater site.

Back in the spring, MRA put out the call for proposals on the site, proposals being due June 30. Only two applications were considered to be complete, and the favorite which immediately surfaced to the top was the 200 – 250 room hotel with conference center proposal from Hotel Fox LLC.

Hotel Fox LLC is partnered with the Farren Group, a housing developer that’s done projects here in Missoula, Lambros Realty, and the high-end The Lodge at Whitefish Lake LLC.

Dieter Huckestein, former VP and President of the Hilton Hotels..and former president and chief executive officer of Yellowstone Club World, the world’s premier private club, appears to be financially interested in the project. Which certainly gives this proposal credibility (unlike that ridiculous Bitterroot Resort proposal from a few years back.)

Let’s hope the City or MRA doesn’t get a wild hair in their head that starts telling them they need to give the land away. I’m too lazy to go digging for the 2006 or 2007 appraisal that was done down there for that property. MRA did two appraisals as I recall, one was an appraisal for each of the two lots and the other an appraisal for the two lots valued as being sold together. Maybe some astute reader remembers those figures?

I say that knowing that “developers” are involved and this community has placed a certain priority on development of that Fox Theater site. Given the economy, we’ll certainly hear excuses for why they “developers” should get the site and a sale price of $1 because “that’s the only way these projects get done,” and the ‘just think of the economic benefit’ cry.

Didn’t we hear that with the Osprey Stadium deal?

Here in Montana, we can certainly call hog-wash on that sort of argument, it seems to me: The City of Bozeman is getting ready to entertain offers on the sale of its downtown parking garage, valued at $1.5M, for a high-end downtown hotel.

Here in Missoula, extracting that economic and community benefit of any large scale or high profile project has always been a pretty nebulous thing if you ask me. I still ponder whether the Osprey Stadium, with it’s hefty public money influx, has given back that which went into it….and while a lot of people might groan on that, there’s a whole hell of a lot more imo that are with the cynics like me on that project.

And Safeway? Missoula got a great looking grocery story, I think (?) …but wasn’t something supposed to happen with the old Safeway site too? Wasn’t that a part of the discussion? And now it sits?

Who do we trust to extract a real economic and community benefit?

For a few months here in Missoula a group of labor, community, transportation and environmental activists – and concerned citizens – have begun a discussion on how to bring good jobs to Missoula. Jobs that are both clean and living-wage. The proposal for development on the MRA-owned Fox Theater site looks to be an opportunity for these groups to actually coalesce around forming what many communities have been doing for the last decade: a Community Benefits Coalition (CBC).

I’ve done a bit of background reading on this concept, and the cynic in me loves it – what a Community Benefits Coalition does is it forms a contractually binding agreement between the developer and the CBC that ensures completion of a project that meets the definition of what the community defines as a benefit.

Again – given the track record of the city on these deals…..

Here in Missoula, some of those groups discussing a CBC for this project are the Missoula Area Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO), UNITE HERE! Local 427, the Western Montana Building Trades and Labor Council, The Clark Fork Coalition and the local Sierra Club chapter. These orgs are meeting with other orgs this week in an effort to build the broadest coalition of partners.

Current goals are for a package of proposals which include a card-check neutrality agreement (which says the employer will be neutral in any union organizing campaign and will accept union representation should a majority of the employees decide to unionize), a project labor agreement (which ensures quality wages, benefits and working conditions for labor on the construction project) and a document which ensures meaningful input into the design, transportation, parking and public spaces that will be affected by the project.

Pretty soon here Hotel Fox LLC is going to want – is going to need – a more firm assurance from MRA and the City of Missoula that the old riverfront theater site will more assuredly be theirs should their project be truly economically viable. Most certainly that economic viability part will come from a marketing study, the cost being somewhere in the $25,000 range.

Hotel Fox and Dieter Huckestein have already told MRA that if they are to put out that $25,000, they need to have exclusive development rights.

Now – it sure seems to me that these guys are asking a whole hell of a lot from the City of Missoula for a $25,000 marketing study. If they want the right to a non-competitive exclusive development right, let’s hope there’s a real community benefit.

In other words, I’d love for someone to be smart about this, and my money is on a CBC.

I’m hopeful that we get a Community Benefits Coalition together here in this project…because I know that developers love to prey on communities in these scared economic times…and Missoula needs to tread carefully on any deal surrounding the Fox Theater site.

The community benefit must be clear, and must be real. It must include good jobs from design to construction to operation.

A Community Benefits Coalition is a more surer way to get there.

Some information:
The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis paper on Community Benefits Agreements
A handbook on Community Benefits Agreements from The Partnership for Working Families
Good Jobs First, a non-partisan accountability organization for corporations that seek local community subsidies
A Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy paper titled Community Benefits Agreements: Can Private Contracts Replace Public Responsibility?
September 30, 2011 minutes of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency


“Weak”, “dismal”, “bleak”, “punishing”, “horrific”.  These are just some of the headlines that graced newspapers over the last couple of days regarding the recently released June employment report.  This comes amid the corporate media’s attempt to set the narrative of a weakening economy.  But if you take a long-term look at historic employment numbers, the latest is not much different.

While the jobs report shows that only 18,000 new jobs were created in June, such low numbers happened many times throughout the fraudulant “booming” Bush years.  The blog Jesse’s Cafe American did a wonderful job of anaylizing the numbers.  Click the graph in order to enlarge the image.

Once the economy was on the road to recovery in 2003, the jobs report came in at roughly the same numbers no fewer than 5 time before the onset of the latest recession.  In fact, the trend in employment is generally in line with trends in 2005, 2006, and 2007.  Even in a good economy, because of the cyclical nature of hiring, bad jobs reports crop up on a fairly regular basis.  Is the jobs report good? Obviously not.  But is it the end of the world? No, it is but one of many cogs ever in motion within the economy.

You’ll see little of this type of actual analysis being done from mainstream commentators.

And of course, potential Republican candidates took no time in attacking the President over his handling of the economy. Perhaps the most ludicrous reaction came from Republicant Presidential hopeful Gary Johnson, calling for an immediate elimination of the corporate income tax and  immediate spending reductions of $300 billion.

Sorry Gary, but multi-national corporations aren’t just going to throw away 20 years of investment in a supply chain that stretches across the globe just to give little ‘ol Americans manufacturing jobs once again.  Hey Gary, was that a hail mary to try and get your name to actually show up in the Republicant polls?

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.

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.

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.

by Pete Talbot

It’s the water

For years, I’ve suspected there was something in Ravalli County water. Those wacky Bitterrooters have been voting down school bonds, opposing planning and zoning, and muttering death threats against those who believe ATV’s shouldn’t roam everywhere on God’s green earth.

Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices, Dennis Unsworth, confirms the funky water. He talked about the flurry of political complaints being filed at his office, half of them from Ravalli County:

“I don’t know if there’s something in the water here … ” he said, while visiting the county and adding that because of explosive growth in the valley, and the age-old Montana battle between private property rights and planning, complaints are flying.

The item on the ballot igniting this furor is the potential repeal of the county’s growth policy.

I thought that maybe they’d cleaned up the water after seeing a couple of sensible commissioners elected in the last go-around and then advancing a reasonable plan to mitigate growth. Guess I was wrong.


Are there really people out there who don’t know who they’re voting for, yet, for President? Maybe you’ve seen them interviewed on the TV news shows, and like me, shake your head in amazement.

Writer David Sedaris wonders about them, too, in this week’s New Yorker:

“I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.”

The Gazette takes a stand

Jay over at LiTW has already noted the Billings Gazette editorial endorsing Obama. It got me wondering what the other newspapers in the state were doing, so I Googled them — except for Kalispell’s Daily Interlake, because I just don’t care. Helena did some statewide races. The Great Falls Tribune “went out on a limb” and endorsed Baucus and Rehberg. Otherwise, I can’t find a thing. I know the Missoulian quit doing endorsements nearly a decade ago and maybe the other papers are waiting until this Sunday or something.

The Missoula Independent will be endorsing in this Thursday’s edition but not the presidential race. Indy editor Skylar Browning explained that the paper likes to focus on statewide races, ballot initiatives, PSC, etc.

Any endorsements in the Montana press that you, faithful readers, are aware of? Please let me know. BTW, the Associated Press has a list, updated regularly, of what the national papers have been doing endorsement-wise.

(UPDATE: As of Tuesday, October 28, according to Editor and Publisher, 222 newspapers have endorsed Obama and 93 newspapers have endorsed McCain. Wow. No Ron Paul, Bob Barr or Ralph Nader endorsements that I could find.)

(UPDATE #2: Great Falls Tribune Managing Editor Gary Moseman called me back. He said the Trib won’t be endorsing in the presidential race but has been actively endorsing in statewide and local races. He said that the paper quit endorsing presidential candidates in 2000, mainly because it had little influence on how people voted but pissed off (I’m paraphrasing here) a lot of people. He added that the Trib only endorses in races where reporters and editors can interview the candidates.)

by jhwygirl

A Supreme Court decision issued last week effectively legitimizes sprawl and high-density development outside of high-growth, centralized infrastructure places with sewer and water and fire, such as cities and municipalities.

The plaintiffs in the case, senior water rights holders on the Upper Missouri basin, cited the potential harm to their senior water rights on the Gallatin River as the reason why a community well system should be denied for a high-density development located outside of what is typically required for high-density development: cities and towns with water and sewer infrastructure.

The Upper Missouri River basin was declared a closed basin in 1993. That declaration formalized what was already known: That the water rights in the Upper Missouri basin were over-appropriated. As a result of the closed basin disclosure, a moratorium was placed on all new water applications.

A separate law allows for exemptions to new water rights allocations for municipalities. What this ruling does is it sanctions the removal of a fairly new water rights ARM (36.12.101(36)) that had been enacted as a result of river basin closures.

What is unbelievable to me is that multiple state representatives can speak out against sprawl and testify in several interim committees, as they have been doing this interim session, for rules that would help prevent sprawl and over-allocation of water rights and building in the urban wildland interface (WUI) area, and yet here is the state joining together with a private entity (Utility Solutions, LLC) seemingly to sanction high density development outside of urban areas with appropriate infrastructure such as police and fire services, and water and sewage treatment facilities.

It’s a short-sighted view. Certainly a community system (1 well) is better than multiple wells – but what about all the other services? What about the traffic? The pressure on rural services? The need for more roads? Air quality? Quality of life? And so on and so on?

I also love it how the legislature enacts laws, and then ARM rules are enacted that exempt all kinds of stuff – like 35 gpm wells, which show total disregard for senior water rights and septic mixing zones, which receive little review and can be defacto approved on your property without your approval or having received appropriate compensation.

For me, this is an example of a whole undermining of the legislative process: Elected officials enact laws, and then ARM rules are enacted (or enacted and then withdrawn) that undo that which was done in the legislature.

by jhwygirl

Courtney Lowery, of Newwest, had a interesting piece up on the rising price of farmland in the west. There’s lots of links with information…and makes you wonder what happens to America when we’ve developed up all our farmland? Should maintaining a certain amount of farmland (Oh, I can hear the catcalls now) be a consideration in the concept of National Security?

The inherent danger of not having enough space to be self-sufficient for a most simplistic need? The huge sucking of energy resources it takes to travel this most basic need 1000’s of miles to our kitchen tables? Is 1,500 miles for lettuce reasonable? Wouldn’t be able to ensure that we can provide foodstuffs to third world nations make us more stable?

Or is the production of food just too untechnical and without big enough profit that we’re better off to do things like drill more oil? I do believe that the people who are pushing drill, drill, drill are not only very short-sighted, but that the electeds that think the same way are more beholden to ‘old energy money’ than to ‘new energy money’. See, those wind mills aren’t as profit-making for a huge infrastructure web of corporations as an oil rig.

Think of the same for coal….and hell, we’ve got electeds out there pushing for coal-to-liquid gasification and we’ve yet to perfect the technology?! We don’t even have the plants and that is our idea of moving forward? In 2008?!

We’re well out of the time range of my lifeline, even if we were to start an Apollo-like energy program – and I don’t envision that we’ll ever rid ourselves of using crude – but I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why anyone – anyone – can’t see the logic of wanting to take pressure off of the crude oil market by pushing for wind and hydroelectric and other alternative clean energy sources.

We’ve known for years that we’re loosing ranching to development pressures – to rising land values, that, when you pencil it out, ranching simply isn’t economical. But when you start using the word “farmland” like Ms. Lowery did, it really brings it home.

America can’t grow without food, but is there not a cost/security-effective balance somewhere? A tipping point where we’ve either got to develop smarter or risk security?

Once it’s gone – farmland – it’s gone. We aren’t going to get it back.

Maybe we should start thinking about that.

by jhwygirl

Who knew the Hip Strip was so highbrow?

Oh yeah – “own a piece of Missoula’s history in the heart of our vibrant downtown” the Lambros MLS notes: Unit 2, one of the turetted units that’s been renovated, is currently being offered at $499,500, while you can opt to pick it up without a complete interior remodel for only $403,532.

I don’t know, maybe I can pick the colors and the cabinets, and see if they’ll take $495,500. Whadda ya think? I can even forego window treatments.

Of particular interest is the east side patio area which will include an outdoor cooking space with a Viking gas grill and Traeger smoker, dining area and landscaping with seating areas. For indoor gatherings, the community room will have a Brunswick 8′ pool table, card table, wet bar, Sony Bravia XBR LCD television and a restroom.

Quite the party house, huh? Wonder what the rest of the tenant’s will say about all that noise?

Of course, if Unit 2 is out of your price range, perhaps Unit 1 will do – you can pick that one up now for steal (sans complete interior remodel) for $415,000. You’ll have to skip the turret, but you still get the top floor, plus you also get a grand staircase entrance!

Then again, if you are really low on cash you can hit up Units 4-13, which range from $237,000 to $298,750.

Unit 13, coming in at 634 sq. ft. (does that include the closets?) will be $237,000 completely renovated – but of course, you can do the reno yourself and save $20,000.

Before you go all crazy, folks – don’t forget to check the HOA fees and docs before you sign the bottom line.

You’ll also need 20% down. Don’t want to make the mortgage banks too nervous.

by jhwygirl

The Missoulian has a common-sense editorial in Sunday’s paper, chastising Bonner Milltown Community Council (BMCC) for turning down a $75,000 grant for smart growth the the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Earlier this month, the BMCC withdrew its support of application for the grant – while refusing to take public comment from the 40+ people present, including Director of Missoula Office of Planning & Grants’ Roger Millar. One member, Gary Matson, resigned.

Withdrawal was based on a BMCC subcommittee’s recommendation.

Jeff Patterson, candidate for Missoula County Board of County Commission and member of the BMCC submcommittee, described Roger Millar and the group of 40+ people that attended the meeting as “mob of people” solicited by Matson “who have not been educated on what it is we are pursuing.”

Yeah, if Planning Director Roger Millar hasn’t been edumicated yet, he sure has been now, right Jeff Patterson?

Jeff Patterson, you might recall, was on the short list of Republicans to replace Barbara Evans and has filed for the current county commission race as a Democrat. He’s also an often hypercritical participant in the Milltown Redevelopment Working Group.

Fellow Republican and candidate for HD-97 Carol Minjares jumped on that local republican anti-smart growth bandwagon immediately – calling Millar “disingenuous” and defining city planners as anti-property rights:

It is the passion of the city planners, the ones who restrict future property rights based on flawed models and faulty data.

uh-huh. Nice. Let’s just keep it growth as usual and see where that gets us in traffic and air quality and taxes for basic services. And if there are any perspective pig farmers out there, I highly recommend you propose moving your facilities next to her property and see where she lands on property rights then. If she’s really a hypocrite, she hates planners but lives in a zoned part of the county..

One wonders what point she was trying to make with this post, titled Downtown Planning: Geniuses at Work – because she quickly digresses into criticizing real estate investment downtown – investment is a bad thing? – and bemoaning the number of poorly run condo projects downtown – and poorly run condo associations are the blame of planners?


Gotta love those Missoula Republicans – at least they’re consistent.

by jhwygirl

Last week I wrote about the multiple permitting agencies doing the circular finger-pointing blame of who should be protecting private property rights (i.e., water rights). The state blamed it on the lack of zoning, local county officials blaming it on the state. That left my friend out, still, with both agencies continuing their permitting process and subdivision approval without any analysis to the impact that a proposed adjacent-to-his-property 45-lot subdivision would have on his private property (i.e., water) rights.

I mentioned that, in helping my friend review the subdivision proposal, that there were 3 troubling property rights issues. I mentioned another one of the three – mixing zones – but today’s post is about the “well isolation zones” required for those exempt 35 gpm wells mentioned in the previous post.

Each exempt 35 gpm well is required to have a “well isolation zone” of 100 feet around the well – a 200 foot circle that is created, with the well in the center of it – that is required to be maintained free of the septic tank mixing zones (more on that later).

The well isolation zone is not required to be within the perimeter of the private property that the well serves, nor is it required to have any permit or easement from any private property that it impinges, nor is the developer or well owner required – either through local zoning or state regulations – to notify the impacted private property owner of a well that is closer than 100 feet to his/her property.

Because a well, on adjacent property, closer than 100 feet, impacts the adjacent property owner.

A well, adjacent to your private property, that is closer than 100 feet, means that their well isolation zone impacts your ability to put a septic tank on your private property. As a private property owner, you will be required to keep your septic tank, and its accompanying mixing zone, out of the neighbor’s well isolation zone.

In my friends case, with several of the proposed 45-lot subdivision’s well isolation zones located on his private property, it is clear that a redesign of the subdivision would result in a reduction to the number of lots. It is clear that redesigning the subdivision so that the lots keep both the well isolation zone and the mixing zones (which, in this particular case which is somewhat unique, are required to be maintained within lot lines) off of his private property, will require larger lots, thereby reducing the overall number of lots on the developer’s proposed 45-lot subdivision.

Poor poor developer, right? At least that is, apparently, what both the state and the local zoning authority is telling my friend, as they refuse to take actions to keep those well isolation zones off of his property.

Instead, if this proposed 45-lot subdivision is approved as proposed, what will occur is that when and if my friend considers subdivision – he is now surrounded on 3 sides by 2-6 acre lots, and water, surface and subsurface, is becoming harder and harder to get for his crops and his cattle – he will have to limit his design by those choices now being made by the adjacent developer and sanctioned by the local governing body.

Some time in the future, some planner, some state official, is going to tell him that he won’t be able to do exactly what the developer to his north did – because those neighboring well isolation zones will determine what he is able to do.

As an aside here, and referencing back to my previous post concerning senior property/water rights – do you see how Montana’s rules and regulations, whether state or local, are geared towards promoting development at the cost of agriculture?

While researching something else, I came across this letter to the editor that succinctly addresses this issue. Lewis & Clark County is apparently considering rules that would require both the mixing zones and the well isolation zone to be located entirely within the developing property. Hurray for Lewis & Clark County, but, unfortunately, this does not help my friend, nor does it address most private property owners in the state.

As long as local officials are unwilling to zone, private property rights will continue to be subjugated to developers across the state. The lack of action puts individual property owners in the tenuous positions of having to sue other private property owners, on a case-by-case basis, for impinging on their private property.

Zoning isn’t the only answer – the state is well within its authority to regulate this issue as well.

Who has more of any obligation to protect private property rights? Does it fall on local authorities more than state? Or is it just the opposite? Someone, surely has the obligation, no? Isn’t protecting private property rights one of the basic roles of government?

Maybe some of those impacted private property owners should get together and sue the entities that are enabling these actions.

Sadly, frankly, that is probably exactly what those entities are banking on – banking on the inability of the private property owners to band together and take legal actions against them for what is effectively a taking of private property rights – an action by a governing body which reduces private property rights by permitting actions on another private (developer’s) property.

You know the saying, “You can’t fight city hall?” What that really means is “You can’t afford to fight city hall,” – they’ve got their own pool of attorneys, who can out maneuver you until you are broke paying your own attorney.

Believe it. Because that is exactly what they are banking on.

The State Legislature’s Water Policy Interim Committee is considering exactly these rules and regulations. I urge you to contact them – there is a link on that page I’ve linked to above listing the members of the committee. It’s hard to get anywhere framing issues in a “let’s do what is best for our environment” way of thinking (though, lord knows why considering our Montana Constitution and the Montana Environmental Protection Act) – this is a private property rights issue, and one that needs to be addressed.

Representative Jill Cohenour (Helena HD-78 ) expressed some frustration to her fellow committee members at this week’s meeting, criticizing some of the member’s attempts at moving away at what the original goals were of the committee – to examine surface and ground water interaction, water quality and quantity, and exempt wells – and moving towards personal agendas geared towards pro-development stances. I don’t know Ms. Cohenour, but a huge kudos to her for speaking out instead of sitting by in frustration, biting her tongue and not saying what others might view as not politically correct.

Something needs to be done on these issues, and it is clear that Representative Jill Cohenour is leading that battle.

by jhwygirl

NewWest recently published a piece, Understanding the Basics of Water Law in Montana, which reminded me of a few thoughts I had been mulling on that topic (for some time), and how it relates to sprawl and unregulated growth and development in Montana.

Also helping it along was a friend who contacted me a few weeks ago, asking me to look at the “adjacent property owner” notice he received from a local planning department – a notice of a proposed 45-lot subdivision. The notice brought to light 3 troubling issues – all of which several agencies all pointed to the other for blame – that subjugated his private property rights to that of the neighboring developer.

Today I mull the exemption under the Administrative Rules of Montana (ARM) for wells pumping no more than 35 gallons per minute (gpm), and how they impinge upon senior water rights holders and possibly even violate the Montana Environmental Protection Act.

Couple that with a few weeks back when I saw Tim Davis, Executive Director of the Montana Smart Growth Coalition speak. The 35 gpm well exemption was, he said, one of the bigger contributors to sprawl. To paraphrase Mr. Davis: “Developers do what they do because that is what our state and local laws tell them to do,” he said, addressing two main issues he saw as needing to be addressed the the state legislature (the other being septic tank mixing zones).

Now, Tim is an obviously smart guy. He had the room mesmerized, as if capturing everyone with an “ah-ha” moment. Many of us complain about sprawl, but the easy blame is upon the developer and the property owner that subdivides, anywhere and everywhere. But what drives that? Easy and cheap subdivision – no need for public or private community water systems and sewer. A lack of zoning doesn’t help the matter, and the 35 gpm well exemption makes it real easy. Create some lots, meet some basic conditions – more often than not in unzoned areas of the state – build some roads and file a plat. Wa-la. Instant sprawl.

As the NewWest article points out, water rights are property rights that can be leased or sold. State law guarantees water rights based on seniority of filing. Yet Montana has several closed basins – the Teton River basin, the Upper Clark Fork River basin, the Jefferson River basin, the Upper Missouri River basin and a temporary subbasin closure of the Bitterroot River subbasin. Basins were closed because the state has realized that there were significantly more water legitimate water rights claims (ajudicated and unadjudicated) than there was water available.

Let this be said clearly – there are more water rights granted than there is water available.

Now, let’s think about that for a moment: What is Montana without its rivers? Without water for its streams and wildlife? Sections of the Bitterroot often run dry – and I’ve heard many an irrigator, when asked about how much water they have a right to, explain that “we’ve got to have water to move our water,” – so is there any guarantee to the citizens of the state that there will be enough water for recreating? For our fisheries and wildlife? (Recreation, BTW, is the largest growing industry in the west.)

I suggest that they only action being taken to protect fisheries is being done by volunteers – water rights holders that voluntarily restrict water use in an attempt to maintain water in streams. The Blackfoot Challenge’s Drought & Water Conservation Committee and The Big Hole Watershed Committee are two such examples.

Even those actions are a struggle. Last summer, the remaining 4% population of the arctic grayling dwindled under record low flows of the Big Hole, and FWP struggled with users who assert their rights to water under Montana Code, for beneficial use, along with their senior rights. A fine article in NewWest, last year, details that struggle.

I contacted FWP last year upon hearing of the impending death of North America’s arctic grayling and asked the biologist “who is ensuring that people aren’t using water they shouldn’t?,” and was told that it was all voluntary. That there isn’t anyone verifying whether water rights holders are taking more water than they have claim.

Ahh, self-regulation – cheap and easy. The unfunded mandate.

Is it any wonder that senior water rights holders might have some bad feelings over being asked to voluntarily restrict water usage – usage that they rely on to make a living and to ensure that their cattle and livestock survives – when subdivisions fed by exempt 35 gpm wells crop up faster than knapweed in some areas?

Don’t fool yourself, either, to think that there is no interconnectivity of surface water and ground water. While the state had fought to keep the two from being viewed as inter-related, the Montana Supreme Court has said differently. Witness the Montana Supreme Court’s decision in the Smith River case. Still, though, the exempt 35 gpm wells continue.

While we champion open spaces and agricultural uses, think about that as you drive down the road and see the thousands of 1-acre and 5-acre lots dotting the hillside, surrounding those agricultural lands. Think about that as, this summer, you dip your ankles in the waters of the Clark’s Fork or the Bitterroot and the water is piss warm. Think about how many exempt 35 gpm wells are pumping water out of the ground, depleting both surface and ground water at the expense of our state’s wildlife and fisheries and agricultural uses.

In 2007, House Bill No. 304 was passed, authorizing an interim study of water related issues, including exempt 35 gpm wells. The Water Policy Committee now hard at work. This is a list of the committee members. Also gathering comments is

Kevin Furey, representative for Missoula’s HD-91, sponsored HB 304. While the committee members are overwhelmingly eastern staters, this whole issue of water rights is something that effects all of us, statewide.

Water rights might seem more of a hugely agricultural issue – but I hope you all realize how the 35 gpm well exemption plays upon each of our lives. How it contributes to sprawl and impinges on senior water rights holders. How it impinges upon our right to a clean and healthful environment, and how, with closed basins which acknowledge the fact that water has already been over-allocated, the largest single economic growth that this state has – the recreational economy – suffers. All of this is driven by the 1,000’s of exempt 35 gpm wells drilled each year.

One of the most powerful anti-sprawl things you could do is to contact Joe Kolman and the members of the Water Policy Committee (along with your state representatives and Rep. Kevin Furey – contact information can be found via Project Vote Smart) and let them know how you feel about protection of senior water rights. Along the way you could be protecting both the fisheries and the largest single economic growth industry in the state, along with your rights to a clean and healthful environment.

by jhwygirl

The Mayor’s Community Discussion of Housing meeting was held this past Thursday. City Council chambers were packed with a wide variety of members of the community with varying views – from Councilman Dick Haines and University curmudgeon Lee Clemensen to Andrea Davis of the Missoula Housing Authority and local developer Perry Ashby.

It would have been nice to see a County Commissioner there (I didn’t notice any of them) – but Dennis Daneke, candidate for Larry Andersons seat (appointed after Barbara Evans retired), which is up for this next election, was there. Also present was State Representative Ron Erickson, of House District 97.

For whatever reason, the Missoulian failed to cover it.

The format was pretty free-form – the Mayor first showed a 20 minute documentary outlining the issue and then introduced four people from his housing initiative panel – Chad Nicholson, a firefighter for the City of Missoula; Rachael Bemis, a mortgage loan officer with Missoula Federal Credit Union; Perry Ashby, local developer of several subdivisions and sometimes business-partner with Westmont Builders; and Nancy Harte, Missoula Office of Planning & Grants administrator for the city’s HUD funding – and then went on to hand the microphone around the standing-room only (with overflow out into the hall) for the next 2+ hours.

There were opinions and thoughts and questions from all ends of the issue. Here are a few:

Dennis Danequeth, president of the local carpenter’s union posed this question (apologies if I’ve gotten the spelling wrong): I admit don’t know much about economics. If there is so much of a demand, how come the market isn’t supplying it? We should first let the market address the issue. Perhaps there are some obstacles in the way. Perhaps we should look at the regulations and give the market a chance.

Councilman Jon Wilkins: Perhaps my biggest disappointment was to find that our program with FHA could only fund one homebuyer with the federal money we got. We can fight this fabulous war that we are fighting but we can’t fight this war at home. I think it’s important that we keep the character of the neighborhoods. I have 2 kids – one is going to be a Doctor, and he probably won’t be coming back to Missoula…the other is probably going to be a social worker and she probably won’t be able to afford a home in Missoula. I might be able to give her my home or something, I don’t know. I don’t know what we are going to do, but more help is going to be important.

Steve Loken, of Loken Builders, who has received awards for his remodels that use recycle-and-reuse methods and newer energy saving technologies: We can build affordable housing, but we can’t find affordable land. We have to pay for good help – there are a whole bunch of factors involved. The city requires all kinds of things – setbacks, roads, sewer, building code. I remodel a whole lot of homes that were built by people who lived in them. Very few of us do that today. Builders like me have to look for qualified builders. We have to pay $12 – $14 – $17 – $18 per hour and if we don’t pay them that much, they’ll go elsewhere. Builders are caught between needing qualified builders and having to pay them a living wage. Land is the problem. I have a new formula – people need to participate in the building of their home. Cooperative Housing is a tool – clustering, changing zoning for infill – we have to be dense and we have to grow vertically. We can do this with good design. Operate efficiently. Limit the amount of equity in a housing cooperative. All over the mid-west, NYC, cooperatives are becoming the way. With these kinds of projects we can have affordable housing.

Doug Grimm (apologies, again, if I’ve gotten the spelling wrong), who identified himself as having lived in Montana “practically all his life” told a story of having lived in Greenwich Village paying $200/month for rent and sharing the place with 2 other guys. He had neighbors that paid $25/month for rent and he couldn’t believe it. Doug went on to explain how NYC had enacted rent control and what a horrible mistake it was. “The market should work it out,” he said. “If I came to Missoula,” he said, “and I was looking for a place to live, my next choice would be to go to Deerlodge. Deerlodge is pretty cheap. It could be the next Missoula. If we sent enough people to Deerlodge it could be come fabulous as Deerlodge. Do you realize that you can move to Jamestown New York and buy a nice house for $18,000 -$30,000? You could also move to Erie Pennsylvania and buy a home and work at Burger King!”

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by jhwygirl

Monday night’s pragmatic city council meeting brought us not only the vote which canned any discussion towards putting a $9 million tax levy on the next ballot – which, after I heard the discussion, I found myself in agreement – but also the unveiling of a mini-documentary on affordable housing by Mayor John Engen.

I find myself writing the rest of this from memory as I didn’t TiVo the meeting like I sometimes do. Sure as hell wish I did now. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. So if I say anything inaccurate below, blame it on old age. Or the alcohol.

Produced by MCAT, along with Planning Director Rogar Millar and OPG’s Mike Barton, it profiled the face of affordable housing – which is your neighbors and fireman and policemen and clerks and nurses and engineers and working professionals and service people. It oulined the problems that many businesses face in recruiting employees. It interviewed people like developer Collin Bangs, WGM head and every subdivision developer’s favorite Nick Kaufman, and a young couple that had to buy in Stevensville to find something affordable.

That couple now drives Hwy 93 daily to work here in Missoula, along with, literally, 1000’s of other Ravalli County residents. Can’t blame that on Ravalli – hell, they’re supporting our workforce, our economy!

Ravalli has been our affordable housing – but that is changing quickly, isn’t it?

While it didn’t include a lot of statistics or facts and figures (a small failure, IMO) – it is certain to be brought out in future discussion. It did include an interview with a mortgage lender who told how a household making $54,000/year could only afford a home that costs no more than $156,000. That $54,000 figure happens to be the median income of a family of 4.

There aren’t a lot of homes on the market for $156,000. Decent quality homes that don’t need tons of work and new water heaters and furnaces and foundation work, etc. The market simply doesn’t address the enormous need that is there.

First time home buyers, depending on their loan, have to purchase a home that passes that first time homebuyers inspection. Most don’t.

The mini-documentary also articulated the economic impact that the lack of affordable housing has on the valley – with one interviewee asking “Is Missoula missing out on economic growth?”

The production was revealing even to Dick Haines, who said it gave him something to think about.

Haines, incidentally, announced his candidacy for Mayor on Monday night also. More on that, eventually….but remember you heard that here first, about 2 weeks ago.

Engen announced the first community meeting of the housing discussion for March 13th – again, if my memory is off, hopefully he or Ed or any one of our other wonderful councilpeople will kick in here.

We’ve written pretty damned frequently on affordable housing here at 4and20blackbirds, and if you want to review some of our thoughts, please hit the “affordable housing” tag over to the left, under Categories.

With all that being said, when people start dissing on the discussion (which has yet to be had!) and start pointing to the recession as a solution to an essential workforce affordable housing issue that has hovered over this valley for at least 10 years now – ask them why they find it so hard to work through the discussion – to wait and hear the community speak. Ask them why they are embracing a recession as a solution. And then ask them to participate.

That’s about all my brain cells stored that can be at least semi-accurately reported. John Engen and the rest of the community that worked on that production deserve a huge big THANKS for starting that discussion.

Personally, I can’t thank them enough.

by jhwygirl

Tomorrow night, City Council will take the steps towards moving forward with very early plans for a new regional park at Fort Missoula. The consideration for tomorrow night is approval of $90,000 for design development which would provide cost estimation and a phasing plan for 25 acres of what may eventually be an 82 acre park. The plans would include a sports complex, picnic area, historic interpretations, trails, native and formal gardens and numerous other amenities. Many of this is outlined in the 2002 Fort Missoula site plan adopted by City Council.

With Missoula’s exploding growth, a regional destination park at Fort Missoula is an excellent idea. Soccer and baseball fields are crowded – and analysis shows that of all major Montana cities, Missoula has the least number of athletic fields per capita. Missoula provides less than half of the recommended athletic fields per capita as recommended.

I have friends who bring their children here for soccer games and soccer tournaments from all over Montana – fields are crowded, parking and traffic flow is poor. Last summer, her daughter’s team bus was struck by a vehicle in a crowded exit of the fields up the Rattlesnake. Any parent could tell you that could be traumatic – especially when your child is 120 miles from home.

Our parks generate revenue for this area – families come and stay in hotel rooms, they eat dinner in our restaurants, and then there is the obligatory shopping spree at the mall or Costco or wherever…all businesses that employ Missoulians.

What is clear is that to plan something like this, it is going to take some cash. We’ve done the master plan, and now Parks & Rec is asking for some cash to plan and project costs. A properly done regional destination park can’t be simply thrown together. You all know the saying – you’ve got to spend money to make money.

A park at Fort Missoula is a great idea. Let’s hope that council can come together on this an realize that it is a summary of many things – quality of life, investment in the community that is lacking what so many other communities have across the state, and investment in economic viability. It’s a good thing for many – not just the kids, but local businesses.

I’ll go further here and suggest that instead of bemoaning the fact that the historic buildings at the County Fairgrounds need saved, move them down there with Fort Missoula. There’s 92 acres – and the county even owns land down there too. The fairgrounds used to be way out of town – but they are now surrounded by commercial development. There’s little room for parking when the fair is actually in town – and the real estate would serve a far more valuable service as affordable housing if paired and planned as a housing trust.

And let’s not forget that not just people making 80% and less than the median need affordable housing. The working people – police, fire, nurses, small business – everyone – needs affordable housing. Frankly, I’m tired of all this focus on providing grant monies to those at 80% and less….there’s a hell of a lot of people out there struggling.

I see I’ve digressed to rant.

With that being said, I’ll add one more: Why is the bond that is being considered only for city residents? With a regional park, it seems to me that there are going to be people from all over the county using it. Kids from (at the very least) Frenchtown, Lolo and Clinton would be playing soccer on those fields. Rugby, baseball, and football players from all over. Little Griz….

If there’s going to be a bond, I suggest that the whole county chip in. Not only does that spread out the costs – it probably gets it done faster.

by jhwygirl

KPAX reported tonight that the recent Envision Missoula transportation planning meetings suffered a glitch in the nifty hand-held computer devices which collected data from the participants at the Wednesday evening session.

Because of that glich – the consultant’s computer crashed, loosing the collected data – Mike Kress, Senior Transportation Planner, said that another meeting will be held to do exactly what they were trying to do – which is collect information from Missoula’s citizens on their thoughts of how the area’s transportation system should tackle our transportation and growth needs in the future.

{sigh} I know those planners have worked very hard at doing their best to make the community aware of its meetings and of gathering as much community and public input into the planning process. If only all of our planning processes were as diligently transparent.

Kress said he expected the meetings to be held in 2 to 3 weeks.

by jhwygirl

This information comes to us via Jordan Hess’ Discovering Transit in Missoula.

Jim Lieter, Community Affairs Director for the MBIA, sent out a letter calling on its apparently under-represented members (along with those other under-represented people like realtors and those in the business community) to “TURN OUT AS MANY BUSINESS PEOPLE AS WE CAN” (his caps, not mine) in order to halt the “Pie in the Sky approach to transportation and land use planning.”

His problem? He feels it is “very slanted towards bike/ped/bus/light rail interests and will be slanted away from growth issues related to both commercial and residential development.”

Missoula’s problem? That MBIA (I won’t go as far as to assume that he is speaking for everyone else) believes it should be as unencumbered as possible, as it has been, and infrastructure should bow only to those with cars.

I mean, suggesting a bias towards bike paths? Sidewalks? Mass transit? WT* is in this guy’s water?

Really – go read it.

And while you’re at it – don’t forget that there is an Envision Missoula meeting today from 3-5 at the South Ballroom at the University Center….and, hell be damned, why not ride the bus?!

by jhwygirl

Boy I screwed this one up – I had scheduled this post to be done on the Thursday before the meetings, but I put it in March instead of February. So this is a late notice, and I apologize….

Envision Missoula will be holding meetings tomorrow and Thursday to bring Missoula its results of the long-range transportation workshops it held back in November.

Tomorrow’s (Wednesday’s) meeting is from 6 p.m to 8 p.m., and Thursday’s is from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Both meetings are at the 3rd floor Ballroom South of the University Center at UM.

If you need more information, you can contact the Office of Planning & Grants Transportation planners at 258-4989.

Don’t miss these meetings folks – transportation is on the tops of everyone’s mind these days, it seems – Councilman Dick Haines seems to be all about transportation planning these days – I’m sure he’ll be very involved in these meetings, given the deep interest he’s shown at the last two week’s city council meetings. Mayor Engen spent a significant amount of time addressing and updating council and the public on transportation issues last night also.

For some good primer reading on Missoula’s transportation issues, I highly recommend Daniel Nairn’s Discovering Urbanism and Jordan Hess’s Discovering Transit in Missoula websites. The are both chock full with musings and theories on transportation issues, and must-read websites for anyone following civic matters in Missoula.

by Rebecca Schmitz

In the comments of my previous post, I linked to an article in today’s Missoulian about the efforts of folks in Lakeside to establish “planning districts”–zoning–as a way to combat poorly planned development. Towards the end of Michael Jamison’s article is the description of a proposed subdivision in an un-zoned area of Flathead County that’s a prime example of everything the Fire Suppression Interim Committee is warning us about:

A recent Lakeside flurry centered on a proposed gated community called Bear Mountain, 26 lots on 160 forested acres once owned by Plum Creek. It is the vision of former Canadian hockey player Lanny McDonald…It’s 160 acres, subdivided into lots of about six acres on average…It’s behind a gate, above the lake, on the other side of the highway, with a shared lake access, in good wildlife habitat, with questionable emergency roads, built with individual septic systems. “It was fought pretty hard,” Harris said, “and we don’t really try to encourage that type of development at all. It’s steep with very thin soil, not a good place for septics…”

Forested Plum Creek land? Steep lots with poor access roads? Potential problems with the groundwater? Sounds perfect, if taxpayers are able to spend millions of dollars to protect these 26 trophy homes from a wildfire. How much longer can Montana afford these kinds of developments? How much longer can all of us afford to resist county-wide zoning?

by jhwygirl

Ahhh, the serendipity of it all. The other day, when I posted A Case for County-Wide Zoning, a few hours later, in my inbox, came copy of papers filed by John Richards in Montana’s Fourth Judicial Court right here in Missoula.

Now, some of you might remember John Richards as the developer of what was first proposed as a 219 lot subdivision up near Clearwater Junction, then what later was proposed as a 59 lot subdivision. To mitigate wildlife concerns, the second time around, he proposed a 8 foot tall electrified fence.

Well, John’s gotten more than a little upset about the two denials of his proposals.

Did I mentioned he presented them, in part, as a way to provide affordable housing?

Are you surprised?

John is suing Missoula County and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks for his denial, citing, in part, that the County “In conditioning its approval on density without objective scientific data, the County, in effect, illegally zoned the property. As a consequence, the County has unreasonably restricted Richard’s ability to develop his own land.”

The County conditioned approval of the project on a reduction of the lots from 59 to 20 lots – a 1 per 20 acre ratio. The Comprehensive Plan designation for the property is 1 per 40.

Richards defends his 8 foot tall electrified fence as a mitigative measure, saying that he “proposed constructing a wildlife fence around the perimeter of the subdivision to negate any wildlife/human interactions. FWP objected, claiming that such a fence would disrupt the natural migratory paths of wildlife, despite the acknowledgment that the area is not a wildlife corridor. FWP failed to present any specific scientific data to support its conclusions.”

Hmmm. Seems I remember something about there being 5 threatened or endangered species within a 5 mile radius of the project area. Guess that darn FWP is supposed to keep the wildlife in some sort of defined area for the sake of Mr. Richards.

There was, in fact, a whole hell of a lot of science that went into the projects review.

Maybe Richards should add Grizzly Bears to the list of named defendants.

Make no mistake – denials of subdivisions in unzoned area – rare as they are – will result in these types of actions. How much will they cost the taxpayer?

How much will unzoned land continue to impact the citizens of the county? Will we have to approve something – anything – just to avoid lawsuits of this sort? You can bet that the solution to this lawsuit will be similar to that of Ravalli’s 4 or 5 cases that it chose to settle rather than drag on in legal battles.

We’ll see some sort of subdivision approved for Mr. Richards – more than the 20 the county recommended, but probably a little less than the second attempt at 59.

That’s my prediction, at least.

I also believe we won’t be seeing any denials anytime soon.

The only thing saving us from open-season on high density development in unzoned lands would be the still-sinking real estate market (which Missoula, it appears, is still in a bit of denial).

by Pete Talbot

A downtown defines a city and in the 1980’s, Missoula’s downtown was on its way out. The economy was lousy and Southgate Mall was beating up on downtown retailers.

Most of the merchants and other business people downtown would have welcomed The Loft with open arms. Hell, they would have welcomed any business with open arms. Back then, if I remember correctly, Fantasy for Adults played an active role in the Downtown Association.

Jamee Greer created a bit of a firestorm with his recent post on the newly created, members only, tony bar called The Loft. Comments ran the gamut, from attacks on those who would join such a club to a strong defense of the club and its members. The undercurrent to all this was that nasty fourteen-letter word: gentrification.

So being one of the older (as in over 50-years-old) contributors to 4&20 and approaching forty years here in the Garden City, I’d like to offer some perspective. My wife has also been involved in a number of retail and service businesses downtown, and has suffered through the bad years and enjoyed the good ones.

Downtown is in a constant state of flux. A decade ago, who would have thought that there would be six, that I can count, coffee shops downtown? When I first moved here in the late 1960’s, there were three hardware stores, three drug stores and a half-dozen clothing stores in the greater downtown area. Thanks to WalMart, Home Depot and Target, I doubt we’ll see those small, independently-owned businesses downtown again, at least not in my lifetime.

And here’s a little déjà vu. Most of my generation remembers and occasionally visited a bar called Lukes. It was a biker dive bar that had music on the weekends. Oh the angst when Lukes closed and was taken over by an upscale deli (with some funding help by the Missoula Redevelopment Association). Missoula’s going yuppie, was the hue and cry, gentrification is ruining the downtown.

Of course other music venues appeared on the scene. Jays, the bar that the Loft is replacing, was one of them.

So maybe downtown is becoming too hip for its own good but please consider the alternatives, like a downtown that nobody wants to visit. Plus, there are parts of Missoula that are hurting the way downtown was in the 1980’s. A blighted Brooks Street comes to mind. Maybe that’s where the next Jays will pop up.

Things could be worse. Been to downtown Billings or Great Falls lately? You can fire a cannon down the main drag and not hit anyone. I’ll bet those cities would readily accept The Loft.

Would I join The Loft? Probably not. To borrow from Groucho Marx, I’d be suspect of any club that wanted me as a member. I also think my invitation was lost in the mail.

Do I want to see a downtown made up entirely of exclusive clubs, high-end boutiques and Aspen-like galleries? Of course not. But having lived through the years when downtown Missoula almost died, I’m not so quick to judge any business that wants to add its name to the roster of downtown Missoula players.

by jhwygirl

Plum Creek Timberlands is the largest private landowner in Missoula County. It is, in fact, the largest private landowner in the United States.

In Maine, Plum Creek has undertaken a plan to rezone 408,000 acres of land around Moosehead Lake. The Boston Herald – in a piece perhaps appropriately titled “Is this any placed to build a home?” – details some of the high points: protection of some 380,000 acres of land (the original proposal was to conserve 10,000 acres of land), including some 160 miles of shoreline and support by The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Society of Maine.

Locally, Plum Creek has been an important part of the Blackfoot Challenge. The Nature Conservancy of Montana has purchased a huge amount of land from Plum Creek – at least 68,000 so far – placing conservation easements on them, and then reselling and trading the lands, in an ambitious program with the goal of preserving the natural resources of the Blackfoot River valley.

All of that is good stuff. What concerns me is the lack of zoning in the county, which is apparently not the case with the situation in Maine. I’m not able to discern the actual structure and authority of the regulatory body – I’m thinking it is a state Land Use Regulation Commission – but what is clear is that there is actually a regulatory authority over development. Something that is lacking here in Missoula for the greater part of the county.

When (not if) Plum Creek decides to do exactly the type of thing it has proposed in Maine, local regulations are not in place to reign in any plans. Plum Creek is currently selling lands – that’s no secret – just pick up any Montana Land Magazine at your local realtor’s office. Plenty of whole and half sections of lands are for sale. Best bet is that more than half of those are Plum Creek lands.

From Monday’s Portland Press Herald is this tidbit (sorry, no linky that I could find):

Bill Townsend, a resident of Canaan and former member of the commission, said the board has a huge job ahead.

”We have known for 50 years that this day was going to come … and that is why, more than 40 years ago, the effort started to create the Land Use Regulation Commission,” he said.

So Maine is a bit ahead of the curve?

So I ask you Missoula – What are WE waiting for? The best insurance we have, for now, is that land prices are sinking. Maybe that will continue. Maybe it will mean that more people will come in and buy up land at bargain prices – not like Montana is going to get unattractive to those out-of-stater’s, is it?

Especially with no zoning.

It seems to me that Missoula is ripe for the kind of discussion that needs to be had between both the City Council and the Board of County Commissioners. A discussion about GROWTH and SPRAWL and TRANSPORTATION and AFFORDABLE HOUSING. A discussion of what we want to be in 20 years, in 30 years…in 50 years.

Do we want to look back on today, sometime in the future, and think “coulda, woulda, shoulda?”

by jhwygirl

Why would a community that already has a lack of affordable housing for its median wage households ($54,500/year for a household of 4) welcome a resort that will make few rich and increase the demand for minimum wage workers? Seasonally?

What will that do to the small businesses in the valley that rely on minimum wage employees?

I guess we need to all resign ourselves to inclusionary housing regulations – ‘cause that’s what happened in Vail and Aspen, and Jackson Hole.

Whitefish and Kalispell are working on the same. Bozeman too, as I hear it.

Yep, let’s sit on by and watch the high-paying wages of Stimson go bye-bye, and instead let’s have the Missoula Area Economic Development Corporation (MAEDC) help fund slanted economic studies to tell us what we already know – that we’ll get lots of expensive homes and 1000’s of seasonal minimum wage jobs.

To be fair – that study was privately funded too – and my guess is that the better part of the $ for that study came from hopeful developer Tom Maclay himself.

More misguided economic development. Lovely.

by jhwygirl

In a short brief today, KPAX reguritates Stimson’s allegations that they “have no timber.”

Is there not one – even one? – news agency that will question the truth to that claim?

There are no where near the number of lumber mills that there were decades ago – so while there is certainly less trees being cut that there was in the early 1900’s, there are still trees being cut – anyone can see even the nominal amount that private landowners and agencies allow you to see along the highway – but think about the stuff beyond that view that it cut. Annually. Who is left to process it?

Plain and simple – to accept that Stimson has no lumber purely because they say so is wrong. It is lazy, frankly. There are private and large landowners that cut their lands. There is the Federal Government – including BLM and the USFS – and there is the State. Has any news agency gone to the large landowners (Plum Creek Timber comes to mind, plus some larger ranches) or the BLM or USFS or the State to see what – if any – sales that Stimson has put in on in the last 3 years or so (since they began laying people off saying they didn’t have any timber)? Has any news agency looked at how competitively Stimson actually pursued actual tree sales? Has any news agency looked into who got the sales that Stimson – if they even went for them – didn’t get?

At least look for the truth. Isn’t that what news reporting is about? Or at least supposed to be about?

{sigh} I guess Stimson is going to do what it is going to do and people are just going to sit by and not try to save and industry that supports not only the 125 or so people that it still employs, but the multiple industries that it supports in periphery to its operations. Guess it’s all Burger Kings and Walmarts. The bottom of the economic food chain, as it were. Yee haw!

The KPAX news piece details the plans of the Missoula businessman and developer Scott Cooney who is hoping to purchase the entire Stimson site, with hopes for developing “affordable housing and stores like L.L. Bean and Cabella’s.”

Cooney also recently announced his purchase of 16 acres of Stimson land south of the ballfield in Bonner, which includes the row of “company houses” and the credit union. His purchase also included 133 acres across the river from the mill site.

(Did someone just say Cabella’s? In Missoula?)

But seriously.

Continue Reading »

by Rebecca Schmitz

I overhead someone say at a party last night, “A Realtor is just a developer without enough money yet.” I wish I could take credit for that, but I can’t. It’s pretty accurate. Comments like it remind me of the billboard on Interstate 90 near Clinton advertising the “Ridge Above Rock Creek” subdivision offered by local Realtor Katie Ward. (Warning: possible high levels of Norman Maclean overexposure on that link. Consult a bottle of antacids before viewing.) I’m used to seeing ads for various developments in urban areas–you know, like along I-15 through the Salt Lake Valley. Every five miles there’s a sign for “Fox Pointe Estates” or “Aspen Grove Heights” featuring a young, white, presumably Mormon family happily playing in the yard of their five bedroom home. The first time I saw Katie’s sign it was jarring because I’m not used to seeing those billboards here. I guess it’s literally a sign of the times: subdivision outdoor advertising is firmly entrenched in Montana.

So it was an interesting coincidence that I was still thinking about that comment when I opened the Missoulian this morning because Keila Szpaller reports (in an article not available online) that the Missoula Organization of Realtors is backing the following candidates:

Ward 1: Justin Armintrout
Ward 3: Doug Harrison
Ward 4: Lyn Hellegaard
Ward 6: Ed Childers

In fact, on Justin Armintrout’s website the MOR is listed as his first and perhaps most important supporter. Presumably the group is unhappy with the answers provided by both candidates in Wards 2 and 5 because there’s no official endorsement in either race. Depending on your feelings about Realtors and the complex issues surrounding growth and development, you can consider the opinion of the Missoula Organization of Realtors when it comes time to complete your voting ballot for this year’s City Council races.

by jhwygirl

The City is proposing changes to its impact fees by adding a transportation impact fee and reducing other ones. The parks impact fee, for example, is proposed to be cut by 55%.

The newly proposed transportation impact fee, on the other hand, is half of what the economic consultants determined the rate should be.

Half. So that half that isn’t getting paid for by development will be paid for by you.

Ward 1 candidate Jason Weiner pointed this out to council Monday night, telling council that government shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing development.

Kudos to Jason Weiner.

Meanwhile, Chamber of Commerce representative Gary Bakke called for Council to do a study on the impact that the fees will have upon business.

Maybe the Chamber should do its own study? It seems that they not only want the taxpayers to subsidize businesses impact on the transportation infrastructure, but they want the taxpayers to subsidize a study to determine the impacts of the impact fee on them. Lovely.

And besides that, aren’t impact fees instituted to alleviate the impact that the fee payer (in this case business) has on the assigned infrastructure (in this case transportation)? Hell – if that’s the case, I want the City to do a study on the impact the impact fee is going to have on my bank account.

Comparatively speaking, the Missoula’s proposed fees are lower than most other communities in the ‘hood. For example – a 20,000 square foot office buidling’s impact fees here would be $43,600, whereas that same building’s fee in Bozeman would be $82,562 – or in Belgrade $63,482.

In another example, a commercial building of 20,000 square feet, Missoula’s fee would be $79,160, while in Bozeman the fee is $138,727 and in Belegrade its $163,808.

A single-family 1,700 square foot home would pay a fee of $3,038, where in Bozeman it would be $7,160. In Billings the fee $3,222. The current impact fee in Missoula for a 1,700 square foot home is $2,226.

I spent some time in Bozeman back in July. New construction and business itself seemed to be boomin’ to me. I saw plenty of new subdivision crops popping up from Belgrade on through to Bozeman (admittedly, I didn’t go beyond, having turned south – so I ponder what lied to the east)….and town was filled with sparkling new businesses and commercial structures-in-process.

And if my memory serves me correctly, the roads were in pretty darn good shape as I drove through the old neighborhood.

by jhwygirl

Seems the County Commissioner’s unanimously denied a secondly attempted subdivision near Clearwater Junction in the Blanchard Creek area.

The first attempt was 119 lots on 202 acres – this most recent 59 lots on the same.

Now, a ‘kudos’ has to go out to the fairly new Rural Initiatives division of Office of Planning & Grants. With the addition of wildlife biologist Vickie Edwards, the review of natural resource impacts and wildlife issues stands on much firmer ground with the input of someone with training and expertise. And the affects are seen with this denial.

The proposed development – the applicant is still contemplating another try – has 5 threatened or endangered species within a 5-mile radius of its location.

The developer’s solution to this was to build an 8-foot electrified wall around the development.

Nice. Welcome to the neighborhood, I guess.

Now, aside from that and other issues (like that which this summer’s Jocko Lake fire brings to mind, density so far from services, and that little thing called “fire protection”), I began to ponder this today: There are those (see here and here for some discussion in that regards) who slam any mention of inclusionary housing as a solution to the affordable housing problem facing people making up to and slightly beyond the median income here in Missoula (and other parts of this state). They defending the developer’s right to make any darn amount of profit that they may – regardless of how much.

I believe, on the other hand, that:

(#1) Taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing development through reduced permitting fees for subdivision.

(#2) Affordable housing provides economic stability which benefits the whole community.

(#3) That accepting the concept that taxpayers should subsidize development while decrying the idea that developers should be required to sell a small percentage of their homes at prices that are affordable to people who make 80 – 100% of the median income is absurd.

And finally, (#4) Location, Location, Location: Missoula isn’t going to see anything more than a small “pop” in the housing market bubble. Real small. That is a fact (you can google that for yourself), same as has been exhibited in other places like Aspen, Vail, Whitefish, Jackson Hole. The natural amenities, combined with unnatural amenities (like airports, highways, localized infrastructure and shopping and entertainment) will continue to be driving forces in the housing market far more than any economic downturns in the housing industry.

So while others seem to want to ignore the problem at hand (or at least cover their ears and sing “la, la, la, la, la”) and champion the right-to-profit of the almighty developer, I have to question how much profit is enough profit.

Especially when a developer can first propose 119 lots. Then 59 lots. And then contemplate even another submittal, with presumably even less lots.

And I seriously doubt that the lot prices more than doubled. Market is what market it – his lot prices were undoubtedly based on size of the lots, not cost-profit margins.

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