If Citizen Advocates for a Livable Missoula (CALM) have their druthers in an appeal to the Montana Supreme Court, the Northside-Westside neighborhood won’t see a rebuilt Safeway store. Missoula Redevelopment Agency Director Ellen Buchanan is afraid that the neighborhood won’t get much else, either.
“When CALM decided to appeal [its loss in its suit filed to stop the project], it became obvious to us that that would keep the Safeway-St. Patrick’s project [from] happening within the life-span of [Missoula Urban Renewal] district II,” which encompasses the Safeway site and is scheduled to “sunset,” or becomes defunct, in 2006, Buchanan says.
City Council designates Urban Renewal Districts and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) uses tax increment funds—additional tax generated by improved property—to fund redevelopment. In District I, MRA money helped build downtown’s Millennium Building, the California Street footbridge and some trail systems.
Last September, the Council approved the Safeway-St. Patrick’s project despite protests that the resulting big box store would run contrary to the Council-approved Northside-Westside neighborhood plan. CALM filed suit against the city and appealed to the Montana Supreme Court this fall after District Judge Ed McLean ruled in favor of the city.
The suit won’t likely be resolved in time for MRA money to be spent in Urban Renewal District II, which Buchanan sees as ripe for redevelopment. At a Dec. 2 meeting, Buchanan planned to share with the plaintiffs some of the unintended potential consequences of the appeal and ensuing delay.
“I had hoped to be able to assure the parties to the lawsuit understood the big picture ramifications if [Urban Renewal District] II sunsets in 2006. Unfortunately, none of the parties to the suit attended the meeting…” reads Buchanan’s Dec. 10 Director’s Report.
Plaintiff and CALM spokesman Jim Parker says CALM has no intentions of dropping its suit. They have not discussed whether an appeal—and delay—might, in the end, hurt the neighborhood more than an augmented grocery store.
“I think what hurts this area is if you ignore the planning that’s been going on here for years,” Parker says.
Without MRA funds, though, Buchanan is afraid that even the best-laid plans may simply collect dust.
“It’s a huge opportunity missed if the district is no longer in existence,” she says.