Archive for the ‘Zoning and Planning’ 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

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By CFS

After attending the public meeting last night focusing on the future of Missoula’s Poverello Center I came away very impressed with the format of the meeting and the positive feeling that most people came away with.  The amount of information provided to attendees that had previously not entered into the debate was substantial.  Especially interesting was the limitation placed on the pov in choosing a new site due to local zoning codes, basically most of the possibilities are within the downtown core or along commercial corridors such as Broadway, Higgins, Russell, etc.  For more information on the process, stay tuned to the City’s neighborhoods website for updates including a map of possible sites from last night’s meeting and details on future public meetings and chances for public comment.

Of course this morning I read the Missoulian article on the event and that positive feeling went away when the first quote they chose to run came from a person in opposition throwing out inaccurate  facts about the pov.

Here is the offending quote:

Despite the Poverello’s efforts to track sexual offenders, “there are 10 offenders there right now” and 85 more within a five-square-block of Lowell School, said one parent, answering a question that each group answered on sheets later shared with the audience. “And that’s just too many for this neighbor.”

Did the Missoulian bother do any fact checking at all?

A quick search of the Montana Sexual Offender Registry shows that the figure of 85 was close… for the whole zip code of 59802, which includes the pov. Rather there were a total of 81 sexual offenders residing within the 59802 zip code.  There were even more within the 59801 zip code, with a total of 83 and an astonishing 93 within the 59808 zip code.  Does that mean that a sexual predation is positively correlated with income level?

59802… looks to cover about five square blocks

When searching by the address of Lowell School I came up with the grand total of 16 sexual offenders within a very generous five-block radius and a total of 6 that have listed the pov as their residents not the quoted 10.  Is it possible that my numbers are wrong? Yes, as the registry’s disclaimer states, “Users are cautioned that the information provided on this website is information of record that is reported to the unit and may not reflect the most recent residence, status or other information regarding an offender. The unit makes no express or implied guarantee concerning the accuracy of this data,” and that for offenders with more than one address the first address is the one that comes up in searches.  Does that mean the first address an offender may have ever listed upon release?  I’m not sure.  So are my number any more accurate than the person quoted? Maybe not but they certainly are different.

Its also disturbing to see a great many of the registered offenders flagged with this note… Non-Compliant/Address Verification Overdue. It really is in red.

Is it possible that the person quoted simply misspoke? Yes, and my guess is that when they stated the statistics for sexual offenders they also included violent offenders in their numbers.  I don’t mean this post as an attack on the people who are opposed to the poverello center or the person that was quoted in the Missoulian.  My beef is with a newspaper that doesn’t seem interested in doing its job properly.  It took me all of 10 minutes to put the above information together and I’m sure I could have gotten more accurate information if I had contacted local law enforcement… like maybe a local reporter might have done.  You think that a professional that is supposed to be interested in journalistic integrity and providing unbiased fact would have taken the time to conduct the same level of verification if they are going to quote statistics in their story.

by jhwygirl

You all might remember that back in May, Missoula County Transportation Planning Division conducted a non-motorized traffic count.

These counts help with all sorts of things – from planning, to providing raw data for any number of grants that reduce the need for tax money for things like sidewalks and bike paths.

This years county is planned for September. They need more volunteers. The shifts are short – 2 hours, and they need people for 2 days – a Saturday and a Tuesday. Here’s the announce:

Help Us Count!

The Missoula Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) will be conducting a second round of non-motorized traffic counts on:

Saturday, September 11, from noon to 2 p.m.

and

Tuesday, September 14, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

We are going to be counting bicycle riders, pedestrians and all other forms of human-powered travel at different street and trail intersections throughout Missoula.

Non-motorized traffic counts will help us understand where, when and how much our trails, sidewalks and bike facilities are used and what our needs are for enhancing or improving our non-motorized system.

Thanks to a large number of volunteers, the Missoula MPO conducted non-motorized traffic counts last May. To see the results of the May counts and to learn more about the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project please visit:

http://www.co.missoula.mt.us/transportation/current_activities.htm

To sign up or volunteer, please call 258-4989
or sign up on the website at
http://www.co.missoula.mt.us/transportation/default.htm

If you can help, give ’em a call or sign up on the website. A good count, does, afterall, take good planning.

by jhwygirl

Missoula County Transportation Planning Division will be doing a non-motorized traffic count in May, but it’s going to take some volunteers – and the more the better.

This flyer has more information on the count, along with the short 1-hour training schedule dates (which are April 29th and May 6th).

The traffic counts will occur two days, two different times: Tuesday, May 4th, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, May 8th, noon to 2 p.m.

The county has a sign-up sheet at the main transportation webpage….and get over there and sign up. Today’s what – the 20th? First training session is the 29th.

Anyways – this is certainly a worthy effort – all part of a needs assessment to determine what it is Missoula uses and how we use it, in terms of non-motorized transportation and its infrastructure. It’s hard to justify grants without raw data….and don’t you know, we’d all be wealthier with more grants and less tax $ for that infrastructure.

by jhwygirl

Good Fantastic news this afternoon for pro zoning reform in the City of Missoula. Judge Sherlock has released his 9 page opinion which denies Lawsuiters Dick Haines & Renee Mitchell (Councilpersons for Ward 5) and Ward 4’s Lyn Hellegaard their Writ of Mandate, seeking the city to comply with public noticing requirements.

At the heart of their complaint was the idea that the city should send an individualized notice to each and every property owner in the city telling them precisely how they would be affected by the zoning rewrite.

The scores of public meetings, of stakeholder meetings, of public notices, of public information put on on the cities website, the public hearings themselves – and even the scores of stories written by Missoulian reporters was not enough for these Lawsuiters…..but apparently, was enough for Judge Sherlock.

If you see any of these people this weekend? Thank them for wasting taxpayer time and money (in the form of City Attorney and his staff Jim Nugent, along with the Office of Planning & Grant’s staff time…plus the reams of paper generated).

Now let’s see what they do. The core of their complaint – as they state it – is the lack of public involvement. Since that legal question has been asked and answered – by a judge – let’s see how they vote now that the issue has all been cleared up for them.

by Pete Talbot

Zoning Rewrite

University-area homeowner Ian Lange had an erroneous op-ed in Sunday’s Missoulian. Fortunately, Ward 3’s Bob Jaffe debunks Lange’s misinformation, point-by-point.

The short version is that Lange thinks Missoula’s zoning rewrite will stifle economic growth by turning established neighborhoods into ghettos (by allowing more density). Lange suggests that ADUs — little apartments in backyards or over garages — will chase businesses away. He believes that more density in the urban core is a bad thing, and favors suburban sprawl and long commutes.

IMHO the zoning rewrite doesn’t go far enough in allowing infill in Missoula, but the majority on city council felt it had to compromise with the noisy zoning naysayers, and lawsuit-happy minority on council. Still, Lange and his cadre continue to spread half-truths and fear.

Endorsements

These endorsements have been out for awhile but I thought I’d recap. First, Montana Conservation Voters have endorsed the following candidates for Missoula City Council:

Mayor – John Engen

Ward 1 -Dave Strohmaeir

Ward 2 – Roy Houseman

Ward 3 – Bob Jaffe

Ward 5 – Mike O’Herron

Ward 6 – Marilyn Marler

The Missoula County Democrats also endorsed. Same as the list above, with two exceptions: the Dems didn’t endorse the mayor, which I’m assuming was just an oversight, but they did endorse Ward 4’s Jon Wilkins. The Wilkins’ endorsement surprised me because as often as not, he votes with the conservatives on council. I guess they figured that because he’s running unopposed, they might as well — no reason to go out of their way to piss him off. On the other hand, the mayor is running unopposed, too, so why not endorse him? Hmmm.


by jhwygirl

Had to read this in the Clark Fork Journal, given that there is nary a mention of this on the Missoula County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) webpage, nor the Boards and Commissions page.

Two unexpired seats need filled immediately for the Lolo Community Council. These seats are all the more important given that the Lolo Regional Plan is in the updating stages (the current one was approved in 2002). The intent behind the update as I hear it is to impose zoning in the area once the plan is updated, much like the Seeley Lake Regional Plan, which is running several months behind schedule.

Application for appointment to either of the two seats – which would go to special election in 2010 and 2012, respectively – closes Friday, September 18th. You can download the application off of the website. For more information call 258-3432 or 258-4877.

Good planning and zoning is important for this fast-growing area of Missoula county. Citizens who are willing to openly look at the issues and seek well-written planning documents can help ensure that Missoula and the Lolo area grows responsibly.

If not you, think of others you know in the Lolo community that would be good for these important volunteer positions.

Let’s not forget the gravel pit issues of not too long ago. Or the sprawling new subdivisions – approved in the name of affordable housing (yeah, right) that are popping up like leafy spurge and spotted knapweed along the highway 12 corridor. This important watershed is being poked and punched with exempt wells, dropping water flows to Lolo Creek each and every year.

The emergency zoning to stop the gravel pit? That was extended into its second year this past May – which means that some sort of zoning regulation regarding gravel pits needs to be in place prior to its second year expiration.

There’s lots of stuff in these pages regarding gravel pits.

Which makes the fact that the Seeley Lake Regional Plan is running behind schedule all the more important. May 2010 will be here so soon, we’ll all be wondering where 2009 went.

Lolo residents need to pay attention to these deadlines, and need to remain not only pro-active in this process, but pro-active with the BCC, ensuring that they don’t get caught with a too-old plan and no easy route towards zoning and land use planning of the area come May of next year.

The regional plan update is the first step in seeking resolution to the uncertainty of unzoned land.

by jhwygirl

Yesterdays very good Missoulian story from reporter Keila Spzaller contained lots of interesting quotes from political observers and lawyers and stuff like that. Good read, if you haven’t hit it already.

What I found funny was this quote from one of Ward 5’s Lawsuiters, Dick Haines (Ward 5’s other Lawsuiter is Renee Mitchell). Haines is, apparently, already feeling a need to reply to challenger Mike O’Herron:

I don’t want people to think that we take this lightly. I don’t want people to think that we’re suing our employer.

Why would he say that? Because at last weeks candidate forum, Mike O’Herron was asked, specifically, what he thought about about the current lawsuit filed by council members – two of ’em being from Ward 5. O’Herron first pledged not to sue the city for his first term (which drew laughter) and then went on to say that he couldn’t understand why someone would want to sue their employer.

So Haines has, obviously, gotten some feedback on that – and clearly, it’s on his mind.

~~~~~
Mike O’Herron is an Independent – something he reiterated a couple of times during Tuesday’s forum. He said that he’d be glad to get the endorsement of the County Dems – and noted that he’d be equally pleased to get the endorsement of the local Republicans, too.

Red Tape notes that O’Herron did get the endorsement.

Several organizations give out endorsements in the cities non-partisan races. Next up will be the Missoula Building Industry Association’s forum, Tuesday, 3:30 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel.

Schedule is as follows (from their website):
3:30 – 4:00 Meet and greet
4:00 – 4:10 Overview of the importance of Business Development in Missoula and introduction of candidates with Dr. Patrick Barkey with the Bureau of Business and Economic Development – UM
4:10 – 5:00 Q&A to Present Their Goals for Business Development in Missoula
5:00 – 5:30 Networking with Candidates

Beer, Wine and Snacks provided
Cash Bar

There is no charge to attend!

by jhwygirl

And so it appears that is exactly what the lawsuiters are thinking with this past Monday’s op-ed in the Missoulian, what with the first paragraph:

A June 18 guest column contains inadequacies we would like to address. None of the signors of the June 16 guest column ever said to scrap Title 20. In fact, at the June 17 Planning and Zoning Committee meeting, we publicly stated that fact. We all agree that Missoula needs an updated, more coherent document. Some of us who were on council and some of those who are no longer voted for a rewrite of the municipal code, not a rezoning of the entire city. Big difference.

Sounds a bit overly defensive to me….

It continues: “No one is arguing that Office of Planning and Grants staff held many meetings and tried to reach out to the citizens,” and “It is not our claim that the efforts to update the ordinance is illegal,” and “The fact that the city attorney wrote six legal opinions still does not get us there.”

They attempt to justify the lawsuit that they’ve filed:

Some council members asked for a second opinion to get clarification as to whether Title 20 was a rezoning of the city. We were refused and stonewalled. At the March 3 Planning Board meeting, some members also called for a second opinion so all their hard work would not end in a lawsuit. The Planning Board did approve its version of the rezone unanimously, with three members absent.

Seriously? Not only do they have Nugent’s 6 opinions, they’ve got the opinion of attorney Alan McCormick (who hasn’t exactly been friendly to some of city council’s decisions) and even the Missoula Building Industry Association’s attorney kicked in with some sort of an opinion, too, that the rewrite wasn’t a rezoning.

Methinks that cracks are appearing in some of the curmudgeon’s re-elections…which is why the “clarifying” op-ed appeared on Monday.

Hear the laughs? I do.

The Republican’s have Teabaggers, Missoulians have Lawsuiters.

Ward 6 councilor Ed Childers summed it up pretty well at this past Monday’s weekly public hearing (and I’m working off of memory here) – that the ones that have filed the lawsuit and the ones that have been critical of it simply don’t understand zoning – and that the very potentially unfortunate thing of it is that it may result in a scraping of Title 20 because the level of remediation it seeks. That contact to each and every landowner in the city informing them, specifically, of how the re-write will affect them, specifically – is an impracticable and extremely costly mitigation.

And somewhere in there Childers mentioned the consultant’s cost of (what I think was) $250,000.

(Title 19 is our current code, Title 20 being the re-write.)

Pretty spot on – I’ve watched Renee Mitchell, week after week after week after month calling for people to come to the meetings; saying it was an upzoning (accessory dwelling units, which currently exist all over – including the university district); and saying that it increased heights of buildings (patently false).

Mitchell has all the trepidation of a 98-year old woman navigating an unpaved parking lot with a walker. She’d rather not go there, and so she is attempting to find any way possible to do exactly that.

The source of her pleas and Wilkins’ and Hendrickson’s and Haines’ and Hellegaard’s – let’s be real here – is based on what they have all clearly been seeing: That the public was in support of the zoning rewrite. Renee (and others) don’t like that – and so, for them, it was easier to ignore that reality and instead act as if this whole rewrite process was going on in some sort of vacuum.

– and you know how ignorant Missoulians are to what is going on in zoning, right? /snark

Have any of these malcontents (Ward 2’s John Hendrickson, Ward 5’s Renee Mitchell and Dick Haines, and Ward 4’s Lyn Hellegaard and Jon Wilkins) bothered to check out that big ole’ 5 inch think zoning book that OPG’s planner Jen Gress carries with her to each Planning and Annexation Committee hearing each week? It’s right there across the table from them. Every week. That is the current zoning book that OPG has to work with – filled with interpretations, it is result of an outdated and poorly written Title 19. That 5 inch thick book represents the murkiness that is Missoula’s current zoning code. That 5 inch thick book represents uncertainty for neighborhoods and builders and businesses.

It’s unreal that these city councilors have taken us in this direction.

And let’s be clear, here – Hendrickson didn’t sign on to this thing because he’s running for re-election. Hendrickson had tried for months trying to round up support in his neighborhood against the zoning rewrite – he tried to get people to sign that anonymous petition – and he got no where.

It was politically expedient for Hendrickson to attempt to remove himself from the lawsuit, but people aren’t buying it. Which is clear by his signature this week on the first post-lawsuit-filing op-ed.

Haines, who’s also running for re-election, at least had the guts to stick to his convictions, miscalculated as they are.

Wilkins, I suspect, isn’t a lawsuit type of guy – but he has signed on to the recent editorial, along with the previous one to which they were seeking to clarify.

Wait – did these guys and gals just want to clarify that which they previously wrote? Rewrite their past inadequate column?

Hypocrites.

Hypocrites that are going to stagnate this city, perpetuating uncertainty for neighborhoods and business.

Hypocrites that are going to cost Missoulians over a year of lost OPG staff time, significant community investment in time and involvement – and a cool $250,000 in the process.

Not to mention the staff and attorney time it’s going to take to defend this thing. Hell, I bet the city’s insurance that kicks in to help defend these kinds of things is going to end up costing us more, too.

Pro-business fiscal conservatives my ass.

by jhwygirl

Just in case you didn’t get this on Bob Jeffe’s listserve, Rocky Sehnert, former planner for both Missoula County Office of Planning & Grants and the Ravalli County Planning Department, wrote a letter. I’ll take out his email address because of the public nature of this blog, but here is the rest, in its entirety:

From: Rocky Sehnert
Sent: Friday, May 29, 2009 5:19 PM
To: Bob Jaffe
Subject: Go ahead–finish killing off downtown shopping- there is not much there that just regular folks want anyway.

Dear Bob,

When you choke off the arteries to some part of the body it will die from lack of flow of nutrients and oxygen. Choking off yet another access route for motor vehicles to downtown will pretty much finish off the viability of that part of the city for meaningful commerce especially from persons such as myself who live a short distance out of town and use our vehicles, at our expense, to do business in Missoula. Your ideas are short sighted and childish in regard to Missoula’s role as a regional trade center. What is needed is more parking if you want to save downtown. North Reserve shopping is clearly more attractive to most people in this area. Downtown is full of over priced boutiques and bars that cater to minors and bums. The panhandlers and vagrants are enough already to keep me and my wife from going downtown after hours.

Why don’t you try getting a real 40 hours job in Missoula, give up your trust fund, and see how regular people live. You might gain a whole new perspective on real life in Missoula instead of living in your fantasy bubble of bike, buses, and bullshit.

Rocky Sehnert

Lovely, huh?

From a guy who’s worked in the public sector.

Rocky’s been pretty outspoken about the zoning ordinance rewrite. Now – keeping in mind that virtually all of the working professionals that have to work with the current document support it because the current document is so horribly written – Rocky Sehnert doesn’t even think it needs to be done. Guess that explains why he didn’t stick around at OPG very long. I asked around down at the Ravalli County Planning Department too – I know a couple people down that way – and no one seemed to remember him either.

Of course – this is the guy, too, who is doing zoning presentations for the local Packyderms. While I usually just sum it up for you, going there so you don’t have to – here’s a link so you can read all about it yourself.

Before I cut out – I’m going to reprint a comment from the Missoulian’s Keila Spzaller’s blog Red Tape (which readers, I hope, have been reading):

Dear Mr. Sehnert:

It has come to our attention that you have found “overpriced boutiques” downtown that cater to “minors and bums.” We’re delighted at this development, as we’ve found it extremely difficult in the past to locate expensive merchandise marketed towards the underage and the destitute. If you could pass the names of said establishments to us, we’d be thrilled!

Your letter also mentions “real life,” which, apparently, we’re not privy to unless we own an automobile and live in the South Hills. By this logic, perhaps 10 percent of Missoulians ever attain this mythical “real life.” This makes us sad. Maybe someday, after our bosses give all of us raises we can experience “real life” too! But for now, we’ll stick to our buses and bikes until we own the automobile necessary to experience the thrill of shopping on reserve street.

Lastly, we understand that parking your automobile and shopping at box stores is clearly more desirable to you. And although we’ll miss your delightful, eloquent comments, we’re glad you’ve found tranquility at Wal Mart away from downtown. God Bless!

Love,

The Minors and the Bums

Nice.

by jhwygirl

Very little to be found on this on the web, people – but that should be of no surprise. I’ve ruminated numerous times on the lack of information readily available on county issues.

It’s 2009! Come on! You have the technology, and the staff. As it is now, it seems they’d rather spend time answering the phone and faxing and emailing truncated information around. Maps? They don’t fax well, nor do they email well for people on dial-up.

And now you can’t even read minutes – they only post the audio files. Can they make it any harder? We get agendas without links, and audio minutes. Unbelievable. I could go on about the many reasonable reasons why all BCC weekly agenda staff reports should be available for everything, but it really is as basic as wanting – wanting – to serve the public and provide them with information that is the same stuff available to the elected officials taking on public meeting actions.

No excuses. Spending money? Rubber-stamping family exemptions? Subdivisions? Those county departments aren’t getting that work done on slide rule and typewriters.

I see I’ve digressed…..

Missoula’s Board of County Commissioners takes up an extension of interim zoning for the area just south of Lolo, and west of Highway 93 as it relates to gravel and open cut mining and processing operations. About a year ago the county commissioners approved interim zoning in this area, but not without being dragged to their responsibilities.

That intertim zoning is about to expire, and per state law, they get to extend it just one more year. The weekly schedule sez it provides a link to the resolution, but in reality, it only provides a link to a public notice announcement on the interim zoning extension meeting. That document directs you to the resolution at www.co.missoula.mt.us/rural/, but a search of that page will leave you resolution-less.

So here’s what I know:
There’s a BCC meeting Wednesday, at 1:30, where a resolution will be considered to extend interim zoning for the area near Lolo, as it relates to open cut mining and processing operations.

It might be nice, too, if the county can give an update on this interim zoning. Surely one year later they’ve made some progress, no? Surely extending the interim zoning is reasonable because the county can reasonably expect to enact regular zoning there by May of 2010, right?

Otherwise, honestly, why bother? I say that, please note, as someone who has wholeheartedly supported county-wide zoning.

Interested citizens want to know these things.

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 jhwygirl

Via Councilman Bob Jaffe’s listserve, a letter from Roger Millar, Director of the Office of Planning & Grants, to City Council:

A concerned citizen provided us with a copy of a petition being circulated in the community by an anonymous group to protest the proposed new zoning code. The flyer that accompanies these petitions employs misleading statements about the proposal. Duncan Associates and Office of Planning and Grants staff have prepared the attached fact sheet to provide clarity. I thought this information would be useful to you as you discuss the zoning code rewrite with your constituents.

Please let me know if you would like additional detail.

Isn’t this sort of political activity regulated?

Pretty darn sure it is

People might want to be saving emails…and some motivated person might want to get after filing a complaint with Montana’s Commission of Political Practices – since by the time he gets to it, it might be another 2+ years or more.

The pro-Walmart/Walmart group in Ravalli county that successfully beat an emergency interim zoning ordinance that prohibited big-box stores? Complaints filed during the 2006 election were decided by Dennis Unsworth in January 2009.

In fact, the Commission of Political Practice’s docket has got a whole bunch of 2006 complaints on it that are either still under investigation or pending hearing.

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 jhwygirl

The opening line to sentence to Ravalli Republic’s John Cramer’s latest reads “Dennis Unsworth, Montana’s commissioner of political practices, knows the term “engaged citizenry” takes on a whole new meaning in Ravalli County.”

Boy – he couldn’t be more accurate. And he sure knows how to grab a reader.

Not that Bitterrooters have a reputation for being laid back. I know many that use the term crazy when they say “Bitterooters” – the two kinda go together, going back to Battle of the Big Hole days…

In an ongoing soap opera-like saga – a story that would be amusing if it weren’t so pathetically ironic, Dan Floyd, Treasurer for Higher Ground Foundation, an anti-zoning, anti-streamside setback corporation classified as “public benefit with members” (as it is registered with the Secretary of State’s office), is calling on a host of federal, state and local agencies to take action to save his two guest houses from falling into the Bitterroot River.

The Bell Crossing bridge, he claims, is the cause.

Seriously – don’t miss the comments in that one. The Ravalli Republic has some of the best comment strings of all papers around the state. Next to, maybe the Billings Gazette. It’s a tough pick, that contest, I tell ya.

So Dan Floyd, self-described property rights advocate is calling on the government to save his property. Now, to be fair, Floyd didn’t build his house and the two guest houses – he just bought it, where it sits, next to the Bitterroot River and the Bell Crossing bridge. This is sounding a lot like the guy down in the Big Hole who bought property and is now trying to claim a hardship in order to get a variance to build a bridge. In the Big Hole case, he’s been denied – twice now, once on appeal.

You got laugh at the audacity of a person that buys property without access, with laws in place concerning bridges and streamside setbacks (the Anaconda-Deerlodge consolidated planning area has not only had effect regulations in place for years – they have a commitment to them), and then claims hardship.

More on Higher Ground: Higher Ground has been under investigation by Montana’s Office of Political Practices for violating campaign laws. There are at least 9 complaints filed over campaign issues in Ravalli County – and at least two of them are against Higher Ground.

Recently, Unsworth subpoenaed the Ravalli Republic for copies of all ads placed by Higher Ground. Less recently, Unsworth ruled that Ravalli County Citizens for Free Enterprise violated campaign laws and would face prosecution if a settlement isn’t reached.

Citizens for Free Enterprise were found to be, effectively, a front for Wal-Mart, who was seeking to reverse zoning regs which prohibited big box stores. They were successful in overturning the regulations – yet eventually withdrew their plans.

The whole situation down there is very unfortunate – collectively, Higher Ground, along with the Bitterroot Building Association and Residents for Responsible Land Use quite arguably had an impact on voters who recalled the county-wide zoning referendum. This, after significant hours and $ costs to taxpayers – not to mention public involvement.

What worse, is that each of these organizations has multiple charges filed against them. Hell, maybe someone should file RICO charges against them all if they’re found in violation.

The ugly side of what the situation in Ravalli County shows is that big money can buy lots of influence – the repercussions will be long in coming for the perpetrators, yet the sufferings of the electorate will be instantaneous.

How do you get justice out of that?

Floyd (& friends – you can bet Tom Robak is one of ’em) are under investigation for violating laws associated with his campaign against streamside setbacks, yet he seeks justice for the very issues under that which he campaigned against.

How completely ironic is that?

by jhwygirl

Since conservabloggers Carol at Missoulapolis and Professor Natelson at Electric City Weblog are getting behind this one in full-force (I use that term loosely, because, as Wulfgar! has pointed out, their blogging sure has been waning), I figured I better kick in on this one because of the danger it presents to not only local government, but to local taxpayers who will be picking up the tab for subdivision development should the thing actually pass.

SB310, proposed by Sen. Jim Shockley of Victor, will prohibit waiver of protest provisions that are often required for subdivision approvals.

Waiver or protest provisions are used for special improvement districts that facilitate road and sewer and water improvements. They’re placed on subdivision plats by approving bodies, which allows for some known parameters when attempting to form special improvement districts. Currently, state law allows for quashing of a special improvement district by a 40% vote. So if 40% of freeholding landowners in said district protest its approval, the creation of the district is stopped.

Let’s look at this: a new subdivision that puts 46 new lots into town. That’s 92 new cars, 368 trips per day, 161 more people, and that much more water and sewage usage. Cities and counties will require a waiver of protest provision on the plat, which is applicable to each new lot, to assist with future attempts to deal with road and water and sewage system upgrades. Waiving the right of protest on these lots presents a known to elected officials when attempting to create these districts, while ensuring that upgrades that are needed to the road systems that these new subdivisions (and everyone else uses) are able to have the costs spread out as far as possible and with minimal impact to other landowners that may not be using these road systems at all.

I mean – if cities and counties really wanted to be mean, they’d look at impact fees that, by formula, look at the impact of the new subdivision on the existing road and project out when surface replacement would be needed and collect that money up front.

Beyond that – roads need maintained. Impact fee or SID – it has to get done.

Shockley wants to protect those individuals like the subdivider and the Linda Freys – who will vote pocketbook – regardless of actual need for road surfacing or safety improvements (that may actually present liabilities to the taxpayers), or negative impacts, verified by science, to water quality – a’la the perennial Rattlesnake sewer v septic battle – issues. In other words – hell be damned with what is the right thing to do, even if it results in litigation because of bad intersections, DEQ violatitions and shitty (literally) water – 40% of the Linda Frey’s out there in the world can say “Hell no” and push the costs of their neighborhood issues onto the taxpayer-at-large.

In other words – Jim Shockly wants to see cities and counties pass on new taxes to everyone….and never mind the fact that they are limited by state law as to the amount of new taxes they can increase every year.

Seeing the lunacy in this one, folks?

Shockley supports his special interest folks, not the taxpayer at large.

Continue Reading »

Reminder

by jhwygirl

In case you missed it from Saturday’s blog post, the Missoula County School Board meets tomorrow.

Anyone wanting an opportunity to let those elected officials know how you feel about a 56 square foot electronic sign being erected in the middle of a residential neighborhood, there’s an opportunity.

Of course, you might be like Cathie, who likes the signs because it reminds her of her hometown of Detroit.

by jhwygirl

Funded with monies from Secure Rurals Schools and Community Self Determination Act, Missoula County and the USFS are forming a RAC to make recommendations on projects that would benefit the National Forest lands withing Missoula County.

The RAC will consist of 15 members, unpaid volunteers, with a variety of backgrounds. The 118 will be chosen from 3 different categories (5 from each category, along with one alternate):

Organized labor or non-timber forest product harvester groups
Developed outdoor recreation, off-highway vehicle users, or commercial recreation activities
Energy and mineral development or commercial or recreational fishing interests
Commercial timber industry
Federal grazing or other land use permit holders, or non-industrial private forest land owners

Nationally recognized environmental organizations
Regionally or locally recognized environmental organizations
Dispersed recreation activities
Archaeological and historical interests
Nationally or regionally recognized wild horse or burro groups, wildlife or hunting organizations or watershed organizations

State-elected office holders or their designee
County or local elected office holders
American Indian tribal representatives from tribes within or adjacent to RAC area
School officials or teachers
Citizens representing the affected public at large

Interested persons can get an application here (the RAC application form is located under the heading, Title II, in the upper left-hand section of the web page) or they can contact Bob Reid at the Missoula Office of Emergency Services at 258-4758 or Boyd Hartwig, Public Affairs Specialist for the Lolo National Forest, at 329-1024.

Try as I may, I can not find a link on the Missoula County website for this important notification. Not on the Board of County Commissioners page, not on the Department of Emergency Services page. If anyone finds anything – or if they add one – it’d be nice for someone to point me to it.

by jhwygirl

Their website says:

The Missoula County Public Schools’ Board of Trustees generally meets on the second Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. The meeting is normally held at the Business Building, 915 South Avenue West, but periodically the location varies.

While the main page lists the meeting dates for 2008, clicking on the Public Notice link confirms that there is a board meeting this upcoming Tuesday – so, if anyone’s interested in attending – like maybe those people living in Target Range, near Sentinel High School – or anyone else that might want to discuss matters with the School Board – stop on by 915 South Avenue at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

by jhwygirl

Most of you have probably heard of the controversy stirred up by Sentinel High School and its desire to put up whatever in the hell it wants.

Binky Griptight, an occasional 4&20 commenter, has gotten himself a blog – and has a spot-on analysis of the sign issue and the students take on it. Must read.

Speaking, though, of good neighbors – who is that sign company that is selling the sign to that school? Because you have crack pushers and you have crack addicts – and they’re both playing a roll in this fiasco. Shame on that not-so-good-corporate citizen, whoever they are.

Further – I know that off-premise signs are regulated (prohibited, actually) by our current ordinance. If Sentinel is going to subsidize its sign by advertising for other businesses, it seems to me that those businesses, then, would be in violation. I mean – who is in violation with that off-premise advertising – the enabler (the sign) or the enabled (the advertiser)?

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 jhwygirl

And they say the economy is slowing down?

Wednesday’s Board of County Commissioner’s meeting will hear a new 129-lot subdivision for Frenchtown, on 275 acres owned by the Deschamps Family Corporation.

While the BCC’s agenda give us all this [/snark] information, an even further search into the bowels of the county website turns up the Planning Board agenda from October 21 which tells us a little bit more information including the owner of the property and more specifically the area where this proposed subdivision is located. 275 acres is pretty hard to miss.

I did try and get to the minutes of the meeting to try and find out more, but that link wasn’t working. (note: It did work the next day, after I got an email notification from OPG)

When I go to the Montana cadastral I see that about half the site is pretty steep – so is there clustering of those 129 lots down on the flatter area? Most of the surrounding lots are 10 acres in size. Bet the neighbors love that.

I’m sure it’s all in the name of affordable housing, too. ‘Cause you know approving all those lots like that has worked so well in the past.

Bet their all going to be on exempt 35 gpm wells, too.

That’s an awful lot of work to find out so little, isn’t it?

Sure would be nice to be able to get to a staff report – I mean, considering that the city is able to provide us citizens with so much information just by providing links (and it is 2008, I mean), you’d think that the county and the BCC would want to provide the taxpayers with open government? Right?

Or maybe I’m wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time.

But hey – maybe those staff reports are being typed by a secretarial pool and delivered by horse and buggy over the the BCC office..and then delivered by another horse and buggy over to the Consolidated Planning Board members. There simply aren’t using computers for county subdivisions and other stuff.

Yeah, that’s it.

Because otherwise, what would be a plausible excuse for providing Missoula County residents with easily accessible information to public hearing materials?

Myself, I can’t seem to justify this lack of information. Somebody knows how to do links. They put the darn weekly agenda in as a link – notice that little link there? “Agenda”? Over there on Wednesday’s schedule?

Missoula County taxpayer dollars at work. Or not. Because putting in a link to staff reports takes so much time and effort.

by jhwygirl

The Ravalli Republic published an article Thursday regarding Tom Robak’s fight with Ravalli County over his home which the county is saying is built within the floodway. This battle has been going on for more than a year now, and is well-known outside Ravalli County. The Ravalli Republic frames Robak’s self-imposed woes as something brought on by zoning regulations and recent land use planning activity:

Although its controversial growth policy was repealed at the ballot box two weeks ago, Ravalli County’s struggle over land-use planning continues to play out on a remote riverbank and in a city courtroom.

In 2000, Tom and Charlotte Robak bought three acres along the West Fork of the Bitterroot River and started mapping out their dream home, years before the county began crafting proposed streamside setbacks in mid-2007.

That’s when the Robaks started framing their 4,600-square-foot log mansion a few yards from the river’s banks about 15 miles southwest of Darby.

It’s also when Tom Robak, an ardent property rights activist, started speaking out at the county Streamside Setback Committee’s public meetings, which he considers a government intrusion on landowners’ rights.

In reading just that short bit of falsely-framed ink, the lead-in to the article, the impression is given that the county is going after Robak due to streamside regulations the county is working to enact.

Read through the entire article, and there is nary a mention that the laws that Robak is alleged to have violated are regulations and authority that the state have had in place for decades.

Montana’s floodplain regulations are in place to comply with FEMA requirements regarding development within areas that are subject to flooding. By enacting these regulations, Montana ensured that its citizens were able to purchase and participate in flood insurance coverage that is backed by the federal government. Without the ability to purchase flood insurance, and homeowner is pretty much left out in the cold. Or in deep water.

The idea behind these regulations – why there are floodplain regulations – is that structures that are located within the floodway can, when flooded, break away from foundations and float down the floodway and destroy city, county, state and federal infrastructure like bridges and roadways and utilities. Loose floating homes present other dangers to other properties downstream – not to mention lives.

In other words – there are darn good reasons why we have floodplain regulations.

Further – any county that fails to enforce these floodplain regulations can cause its citizens the loss to the right to participate in FEMA’s flood insurance program. That would be everyone’s ability to obtain or keep their floodplain policy.

But – you wouldn’t know that by reading the Ravalli Republic’s story on Tom Robak’s home which appears to be built in the floodway. In fact, reading all of the ink that has been written on Robak’s castle that he built mere feet from the Bitterroot River – not the tamest of rivers in terms of wanting to stay where it is, any Bitterrooter knows – you’d never know that his woes are associated with those regulations…you only get the sense that the county is trying to persecute this poor guy because he hates streamside setbacks. Because he’s the money and founder behind the Big Sky Coalition.

The Big Sky Coalition is one of several anti-zoning, anti-streamside setbacks, pro-uncontrolled growth groups in Ravalli County. According to the Ravalli Republic, though, the Big Sky Coalition is a “new breed of environmentalist” for Ravalli County.

Make you feel warm-n-fuzzy?

Kinda makes me wonder how much money Robak and his Big Sky Coalition is putting into advertising down there in Ravalli County’s only daily newspaper, doesn’t it?

Going further, in terms of reporting the specifics of Robak’s floodway-located home, and the potential that it may have to be removed, the newspaper makes no mention of another home that was recently moved and relocated after having been built within the floodway, nor another (as I hear it) that is under the same type of scrutiny.

No – it’s all about poor pityful Thomas Robak and the spiteful situation he faces with the ever repressive regulators.

It’s hard to eliminate bias – I’d be pot, kettle, black if I didn’t admit that – and on that note, no one is coming to read this blog expecting completely unbiased opinion, right? – but you’d think in somewhere in all the ink that the Ravalli Republic has given this story – more than once – that they’d take the time to educate its readers on exactly the regulations that are at play here – that the regulations at play, and the enforcement of the regulations, are something that affects probably 85% or more of Ravalli County residents (those that have to have flood insurance), and that the regulations that Robak is allegedly in violation of are regulations that are in place in every county in Montana.

Otherwise, they are willingly feeding anti-zoning and anti-land use planning sentiments/sediments, and playing the willful mouthpiece of those people – and not accurately reflecting the actual facts of the news they are reporting.

by jhwygirl

A landmark decision brings hope that Montana’s last surviving prehistoric fish, cut off by the receding of the glaciers, may survive. A most excellent piece of journalism from the Flathead Beacon. Make sure to check out that picture.

The Missoula Humane Society is sponsoring its first annual “Missoula Dog Style” show beginning at 11 a.m. this morning at Jacob’s Island Park. Contests like “most adorable dog,” “best sweater,” and “cutest puppy,” will raise some cash as part of a school project for 9 UM students. Footloose Montana and Dog Spaw will be there too – and Go Fetch! donated all the prizes.

one more animal story….

Who couldn’t love a face like this?pygmy-hippo

A rare pygmy hippo was born in Australia last month. Not much larger than a puppy, staff had to feed it with a dropper – and its herculean effort seems to have paid off. There’s video and a photo gallery.

I want one.

While Australian press must of missed CNN’s admission that it ‘faked’ the election night holograms– even though the faked versions were quite an effort – the story linked to above mentions two actual holograms that have been created.

Anyone watch the show “Bones”? They use a hologram on there, or a fake hologram – but either way, it’s pretty neat.

More DEQ woes – caught by Cesar Hernandez and Missoula Independent journalist Patrick Klemz. When will state elected official – executives and legislatures – stand up and take notice and DO SOMETHING?

DEQ is a mess. It’s due in large part to a terrible lack in staffing. And a reliance on self-reporting (as if!). People point to Wyoming as an industrial wasteland? Hell – take a look around – just the mere fact that Montana has not only the largest but the most EPA cleanup sites is a hint to that which hasn’t even been found. Peruse the DEQ website to get a sense of what we’ve got. The drop-down menu on the right is a good place to start.

When you have the EPA telling you that you aren’t protecting Montanan’s water, you know you’ve got problems, right?

Speaking of water….

Looks like Ravalli and Missoula aren’t the only counties with problems getting to streamside setback regulations. Flathead County is warming up to a showdown of sorts on the issue.

I mean – look at Ravalli County – they just elected a county commissioner (Iman) that sits on the Conservation District Board who campaigned on a theme of killing streamside setbacks. Tell me people aren’t whack about this issue?

I close by repeating: What is Montana without its water..its streams and rivers…its lakes?

Someone make me a bumpersticker, please!

by jhwygirl

I mean, just look at today’s Board of County Commissioner (BCC) Agenda.

Now, compare that to the City Council agenda.

One has links to staff reports, maps, committee reports, etc. The other just tells me that they are considering a 69 lot subdivision next to the Clark Fork River.

Which do you prefer?

A county with 2,598 square miles of land, one of the fastest growing counties in the state, and an $83.9 million budget, and they can’t see fit to provide the taxpayers with sufficient public information?

Of course, we know how they’ve enjoyed the possibility of public comment in the past. Or you could always try this post for 2 more examples of the BCC’s approach to public comment.

Maybe it’s about time they instituted a new policy – one that keeps the public informed, 21st century style?

Consider writing a letter to the editor of either The Missoulian or the Missoula Independent, and call on the BCC to let the public know more about their doings in a more informative modern way. Citizens should not have to call the office and hope someone is available to fax you a staff report or talk to you when they should be providing this stuff on their website.

Whatever materials they have to decide the matter should be available to you and I. They aren’t getting that stuff on Wednesday mornings.

Please – go ahead and write that letter – because, obviously, they appear to be internet-challenged.

And then, maybe, just maybe, news reporter Chelsie Moy might actually have something worthwhile to praise the BCC about.

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

This comes to us via Electric City Weblog.

The Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) was denied access to City of Great Falls records pertaining to the possibly soon-to-be-ill-fated coal-fired Highwood Generation Plant being constructed for Southern Electric Generation and Transmission.

The feasibility study is apparently problematic for the city – City Attorney Gliko said that even the preliminary draft was off-limits, citing that “no feasibility study existed, per se,” and that the city was not required to produce preliminary drafts under MCA 2.4.601(2)(ii)(c).

Looks like Great Falls will be picking up the tab on MEIC’s attorney fees too. Ouch.

We’ve blogged on Great Falls here in the past. This is one of my favorites: Quashing Public Comment and Police Strong Arm Tactics in Great Falls.

Big KUDOS to MEIC and its staff. They’ve got an eye on the Highwood Plant and five other proposed coal-fired plants across the state.

You can download the entire order here.




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