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Missoula zoning request divides neighbors as decision looms

Development Housing River Road
Posted at 12:02 PM, Mar 03, 2022

MISSOULA — A requested zoning change to accommodate more housing on a River Road parcel made its debut before the city’s Land Use and Planning Committee this week, which must make a decision on the proposal by mid-March under state law.

Along the way, some residents in the area are working to present a petition of opposition to the proposed project. If they meet the required 25% threshold, it would require a two-thirds vote of support from the City Council to pass.

The project represents another challenge of building housing in Missoula, with constant push-back from neighbors and the many conditions that come with city approval, which add to the cost of development.

Also, current city zoning doesn’t align with Missoula’s growth policy. As a result, developers seeking to build at greater density to achieve more affordability are forced to seek changes in zoning to accommodate today’s needs and challenges.

“This property’s location within the city makes it ideal for infill development, which is a step in accomplishing the city’s housing policy goals,” said Joe Dehnert, a project representative with the IMEG Corp. “It also adheres to the growth policy’s land-use designation and fitting in with the neighborhood character.”

But residents don’t see it that way, saying current zoning already allows for 10 housing units while the requested zoning change would permit 19 units. They believe it’s too many for the 3-acre lot and would further stress River Road, which currently lacks the infrastructure of other urban collector streets.

Jo Beck, president of the Carter Court Homeowners Association, said area planning has been disjointed and River Road is unable to accommodate more infill.

“I think it’s time we start paying attention to this neighborhood,” she said. “Why can’t we make this be a place we can be proud of and not just say we have a housing issue in Missoula and we need these houses crammed in here? That’s all that matters. What matters is quality of life, and quality of life on Carter Court is very important to our members.”

The project, proposed by Robert and Coleen Anderson and represented by IMEG, cleared the planning board last month on an 8-1 vote. The board generally agreed that the property was suitable for the project and that it met city policies.

The city’s planning department also has recommended approval, and some other residents favor the project and the additional housing it would provide.

“We need more housing in Missoula, and this subdivision isn’t out of character for that area,” said one woman who identified herself as Diane. “The people on Carter Court are having NIMBY. I don’t blame them – nobody wants more development next to them. But Carter Court was granted a bunch of variances, yet they’re complaining someone else is going to be granted variances. It’s not very fair.”

The committee is expected to make a decision on the zoning change next week.