Infill? Sprawl? Infill? Sprawl? How will Missoula grow? After coming to a head last summer with a lawsuit and a moratorium on one form of infill, the issue of development in the city, and the course that development may take in the future, is still up in the air. Recently, though, Missoula passed two growing-pains milestones. First of all, the moratorium on planned neighborhood clusters (PNCs) that City Council imposed in July expired Jan. 12 (and it would take an unlikely two-thirds majority to extend it.) The moratorium was supposed to allow City Council time to revise PNC rules to better reflect the will of the new Council, which is less friendly to infill than prior city governance. But Council never did revise the policy.
“I’m always disappointed when we’re not efficient,” says John Engen, chairman of Planning, Annexation and Zoning (PAZ), the committee charged with the revision. Instead, PAZ was inundated with boundary adjustment requests, which the city attorney advised them to process quickly. The moratorium, in short, didn’t accomplish squat.
On another front, District Judge Jeffrey Langton heard oral arguments last Friday on the case that kicked off the infill crisis: Roe v. City of Missoula. In spring 2004, the Roes asked for a boundary line adjustment at 636 Evans, a University-area property. Neighbors—and opponents of infill—vociferously opposed the request. City Council denied it. On Friday, attorney Thomas Orr, representing the Roes, pleaded with the judge to focus on the procedural nature of the case and to stay away from the high emotions inherent in development issues. Attorney Douglas Wold, representing the city, made a strong case that City Council acts within existing laws and regulations when it denies adjustment requests. But Wold didn’t address Council’s decision to change the approval process midstream. Judge Langton is expected to issue an opinion soon, but no date is set.
Meanwhile, PAZ and City Council continue to process—and deny—boundary line adjustment requests. PAZ’s agenda contains roughly five times the number of items found on other committee agendas. Monday evening at 9:30 p.m. Council was still in session. Engen quipped that his committee meeting would begin at 10 p.m. and finish when every single item on the list—69 and counting—had been addressed.
Between 2001 and 2002, the city grew by 776 citizens. Between 2002 and 2004, the city grew by nearly 2,000 newcomers each year. No one expects the influx to slow. Elected officials, though, have yet to tackle how Missoula will handle it. Maybe they could just put a moratorium on growth.