Where’s the vision, man?

Like many property owners in Missoula, I just received my first notification of city zoning changes. Only problem is that I don’t know what it means. I don’t see some grand vision for the future of Missoula and I don’t see much evidence of responding to citizen concerns.

Instead we are being told it is a zoning ordinance update, that the consultants were hired to tidy up the regulations, make them more consistent, more current and user-friendly. Problem is that in the process they are changing some of the fundamentals of residential zones, like set-backs, height restrictions, minimum lot sizes, and density calculations. They are also eliminating public hearings for ‘minor modifications to selected zoning ordinance standards and minimum lot area rquirements.”

Pardon me, but those are fundamental and major changes. To add insult to injury, the letter I received doesn’t tell me how the zoning for my property is changing. Instead, I have to go to a privately controlled website (http://missoula.duncanchicago.com/), to Denny’s copy shop (where I must give 24 hours notice to purchase a copy), stop by the public library or I can take time off work to trudge on down to OPG during office hours.

What irks me more, though, is the lack of any captivating reason why I should care. Beyond my own selfish concerns about I might be losing in terms of the value of my property and how it might be affected by what my neighbors are now allowed to do on their property. There is no mention of how this is going to improve our city, of how things will be better for all of us, of how we might want to agree to give up our own personal gain for the sake of some greater good.

So, I don’t think the good planners at OPG should be surprised when things get acrimonious. I can’t forsee how the City Council public hearing (7.00pm April 27th) is going to go well. Instead, I see individuals getting up and complaining about their pet peeve. Nit, nit, nit. It could well go late into the night, or else Mayor Engen might have to cut people off mid-rant. Heck, if Lee Clemensen or Jane Rectenwald or Professor Frey or Celeste Rivers get going, it should be a good show. Better set your TiVo to record the MCAT showing!

Compare this with the forward thinking that Richard Florida is arguing will determine the economic winners and losers in the city and region stakes of the future. Check out the most recent issue of The Atlantic. Now, you may or may not agree with Florida’s argument but at least he has a well reasoned vision of what prosperous communities will look like:

We need to encourage growth in the regions and cities that are best positioned to compete in the coming decades: the great mega-regions that already power the economy, and the smaller, talent-attracting innovation centers inside them—places like Silicon Valley, Boulder, Austin, and the North Carolina Research Triangle.

If it can work for other towns that are centers of higher education and health care (like those highlighted above) which have an attractive and tolerant quality of life, then why shouldn’t we be discussing these sorts of big ideas here in Missoula?

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