Meet the boy for Ward One

Missoula Building Industry Association (MBIA) candidate for City Council (Ward 1), Ryan Morton, invited us all down to the Missoula County Democrats Central Committee last night. He’s been prolific with his commenting in the blogosphere and let’s say my interest was peeked!

So I went along to meet the wunderkind. And, lo and behold, doesn’t he have such a cute smile!

Ah, but I’m not going to write about his hairdo, even if it is called a ‘faux hawk.’ Now, I really should stop calling him ‘boy.’ However, rest assured, I will not be calling him the “Queer-Marxist-Aquarius-MBIA Hired Geek.”

Instead, let’s consider some of the issues. Ryan tweets, “If the zoning rewrite becomes an election issue, will that be good or bad for me? Probably good. I know more about it than any candidate.”

That would be because of his day job, Community Affairs Director for MBIA (or is it Government Affairs Director, I’m not sure). JC comments over here, however, that it all adds up to being a lobbyist. He is paid to present the interests of MBIA to the community and that certainly includes the City Council. Yep, one look at MBIA’s May newsletter, and their priority list on page 2, and it certainly looks like he’s already well versed in the controversies of Council. I find it hard to believe him when he says, “most of what I want to accomplish has little or nothing to do with MBIA issues.

Last night, while Mr. Morton was not seeking the endorsement of the Missoula County Democrats (I wonder why he came to the endorsement meeting?), he did describe himself as a Democrat. I was then surprised to see him just now say he “thinks it’s weird that county Democrats would endorse candidates that have opposing views on future development in Missoula.” Does he understand what the Democratic Party stands for? OK, maybe that’s a little unfair, but I’m beginning to think that Ryan makes lots of political statements for their sound-bite effect.

Like the ‘affidavit’ Morton has signed saying he “won’t be collecting or spending any cash (no yard signs, brochures, fundraisers, etc.)” Indeed, he has already torn up a check that some benefactor sent him for his campaign. You have to wonder how long it will be before he tears up his affidavit. Perhaps when his opponent, Dave Strohmaier, outspends him?

But the main issue I am interested in is how Ryan is going to represent the interests of the people of Missoula. In a comment about the Clark Fork Terrace 2 case, Morton probably wants to “go back and change the City regulations on parks, trails, etc.” As he testified to the Plat, Annexation and Zoning Committee of City Council, he is concerned that there is no documented community need. Wow. That’s riverfront trails we’re talking about.

Is this all indicative of the sort of campaign he’s going to run? Because, I reckon he’ll have to be some kind of Superboyman to win over the Northsiders and Rattlesnakers with these sorts of comments. Really, I do.

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ADUs and Density in Missoula

In a very telling opinion in today’s Missoulian, former city council member John Torma explains what all the fuss is about with ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units). Quite correctly, he boils it down to density:

Modest increases in … I’m going to use the “D” word now … density in our urban core neighborhoods will reap significant benefits in the area of transportation, i.e. miles not traveled, air not fouled, and vehicles not needed. As a historical housing type in our urban core neighborhoods, ADUs can bring a modest increase in density without significantly changing the character of our neighborhoods.

I am not a fan of ADUs. But, I do agree with greater density in inner neighborhoods. What ADUs do is force us to get density right. All the things people dislike about ADUs must be solved before we will support greater density.

My biggest gripe with ADUs (please don’t call them granny flats – she’ll die and we’ll be stuck with the consequences) is that they don’t meet the underlying zoning requirements. Often they are built right up to the rear alley. ADUs get built over the top of existing (and non-conforming) garages. They shade out the neighbors, block clear air circulation and choke out the view.

ADUs create more vehicles without the necessity of having to provide on-site parking. That means we’ll all soon be fighting for a parking spot outside our home. Your typical inner neighborhood home only has on-street parking for one or two vehicles. But, if you put your children, your parents, or a bunch of rent-paying college students into the ADU then you should have to provide the extra parking on your property. I know those paved lots are going to mess up your native grassland, but that just should be part of the deal.

ADUs should be required to be accessed from the front of the property. Our alleys weren’t designed to be streets, particularly since emergency vehicles don’t have a hope in heck in navigating most of them. Heaven help the fire-fighters trying to rescue your cat from a burning ADU. Moreover, alleys don’t have sidewalks and are quite unsafe for walking and playing. There aren’t enough lights, there’s no plowing, and folks don’t shovel the snow back there. More cars in alleys will mean more ice slicks in winter, more dust in summer, more vehicle exhaust, more accidents, and more vibration felt in neighboring homes. That’s not healthy.

But, these aren’t problems with ADUs alone. They are problems with greater density in general. If the City Council is going to approve these zoning changes in our neighborhoods then they should provide answers as to how they are going to protect everyone’s health and safety. And not just the elderly or other folks who are supposed to be benefiting from ADUs.

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?