— Story by Martin Kidston – Missoula Current
While members of the Missoula City Council agreed that closing off public right-of-way makes poor public policy, they reluctantly agreed Wednesday to leave a portion of a South Avenue alley blocked to address the concerns of nearby residents.
Doing so, they hope, strikes a compromise between the need to move traffic around several commercial businesses, including Dominoes and a planned taphouse and restaurant, while also protecting the concerns of two neighboring residents.
“We are often asked to have sympathy for individual landowners and individual residents of our city regarding decisions this body makes,” said council member Julie Merritt. “But closing off public right-of-way to benefit one or two folks is not good public policy.”
The City Council initially voted to remove a barrier blocking an alley behind Hoagieville, which is being razed and replaced with a new taphouse. The barrier was installed in 1988 in what the council deemed “a bizarre local government” decision.
But residents feared that removing the barrier would open the alley to increased traffic, not only from the taphouse’s future customers, but also from the late-night delivery drivers working at Domino’s.
In an effort to strike a compromise, the council agreed to leave the barrier in place but move it slightly south. That would accommodate the needs of surrounding businesses.
“Blocking right-of-way is bad public policy,” said council member Bryan von Lossberg. “I fully understand why it happened relative to Domino’s Pizza, but I would argue the solution has created a bunch of issues we’re now dealing with here.”
Council members expressed safety concerns over semis that deliver commercial goods to the businesses, and trash trucks that are now forced to back down the alley to collect rubbish from residents.
“I find it appalling that we have multi-ton vehicles backing down right-of-ways to service people,” von Lossberg added. “It creates a real safety issue. I want that alley to function with trash trucks pulling through the front way.”
Neighborhood advocates urged the city to leave the barrier in place to protect the peace and privacy of two residents who live along that stretch of the alley.
Removing the barrier, Doug Schultz said, “would be very harmful” to the two residents in question.
“Simply moving the barrier back far enough to give Hoagieville adequate access would take care of the problem,” said Schultz. “I think that’s the best solution, and it’s consistent with the wishes of anyone who has testified here as a member of the community.”
The issue surfaced back in January when Chris Goble won preliminary approval to replace his Hoagieville drive-in with a new taphouse and restaurant. That prompted debate over access, including the public alley which has been closed since 1988.
While Goble has pledged to work with residents to lessen the impact of his new establishment, Domino’s has claimed little responsibility in the matter, saying it had no control over the actions of its drivers once they leave the restaurant.
That didn’t sit well with members of council.
“I absolutely reject the sentiment that once their drivers are in their car and leaving, that they have no control over them,” said von Lossberg. “At some point, we rely on people’s good nature, their neighborliness. That bar is way too low to say that they have no control. The owners of that establishment can obviously influence what their drivers do by any number of means.”