Fighting Safeway’s big footprint 

Westside resident Mehgan Hart pulls back the curtains of her Pine Street home and explains what the proposed new Broadway Safeway building will do to her view.

“If this gets built, I’ll just be staring at a brick wall,” she says.

Right now, the corrugated-metal wall of a dilapidated City Shop’s building obscures most of her view. It seems that Safeway’s wall wouldn’t be much worse than what is already there—it might even be an improvement—but Hart can’t relate to thinking like that.

“We’re talking about changing what the neighborhood looks like for 35 years,” she says. “I know this is so far out, but I don’t want a wall. I’d like to see a park bench or maybe even a statue.”

With wicker rocking chairs and a brightly-painted red gate, Hart works to transform the Westside and Northside into an up-and-coming, funky neighborhood. A 57,500-square-foot Safeway with 150 parking spaces and gas station would kill the uniqueness residents are trying to foster, she says.

Hart’s sentiments are shared by many of her neighbors. The Northside/Westside Neighborhood councils unanimously agreed the proposed development should be denied, and a legal protest has been submitted by 25 percent of the property owners within 150 feet of the proposed site. According to Westside resident Mike Bennett, who went door to door asking property owners to join the effort, the protest will force City Council to muster a two-thirds majority, rather than a simple majority, to rezone the land in favor of Safeway.

Local residents have also used the Northside/Westside Neighborhood Plan, a document drafted by residents devoted to promoting the area’s historic neighborhoods and fostering community, to argue against the new Safeway. The Neighborhood Plan, which was adopted as part of the city’s comprehensive plan, doesn’t allow for this type of development. Residents have also cited the Office of Planning and Grants’ recommendation to not let the project go forward.

But opponents were dealt a big defeat on Jan. 7 when the Missoula Consolidated Planning Board voted 4 to 3, not to deny the Safeway proposal. Fred Reed is one of the members of the planning board who was most outspoken in favor of the new development.

Reed wasn’t available to the Independent for comment, but at the planning board meeting he told the audience of proponents and opponents that the Neighborhood Plan wasn’t applicable to the proposed Safeway site.

“As far as I can see, the neighborhood is against this…in what can only be described as either the edge of the neighborhood or, perhaps, completely outside the neighborhood,” he said. “But, I don’t think there is any definition, any common definition of neighborhood, that pulls this area into the neighborhood. So, for a neighborhood plan to drag this in and propose what is going to happen there, I just found [that] frustrating.”

Hart and a collection of neighbors who live just across Pine Street from the site found Reed’s comments “ignorant” and “distressing” and they hope the City Council agrees with them when the Council takes up the issue at its Monday, Jan. 27 meeting.

Until then Hart plans on convincing as many citizens as she can to show up at the Council’s meeting to oppose the development. Her effort to cultivate support will come to a head at noon on Saturday, Jan. 25, when a group of residents will hold a rally at the corner of Nora and Broadway.

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