Since fall 2007, the city of Missoula and the Office of Planning and Grants have conducted 11 Plat, Annexation and Zoning Committee (PAZ) meetings, 21 Planning Board meetings, three town hall meetings, 37 listening sessions, three community forum sessions, 17 neighborhood council presentations and nine advisory group meetings to develop Title 20, the city's new zoning ordinance. All told, Roger Millar, director of the Office of Planning and Grants, estimates that the city has spent 6,000 hours on the ordinance thus far.
And it's not nearly over.
The Missoula City Council has already started plodding through a 271-page tome—the result of all those meetings—in hopes of finding some consensus on local zoning regulations. The tedious and often contentious process is expected to drag on throughout the summer, during an election year, with little else dominating the city's agenda. It's enough to test even the heartiest councilmember's patience—not to mention the patience of interested citizens, 51 of whom showed up to speak about zoning at a recent council meeting.
Evidence of the tension bubbled to the surface during the June 23 PAZ meeting when Ward 2 Councilmember John Hendrickson signaled a growing mistrust among the council.
"You guys want to act in good faith and cooperate with us," he said, referring to those in favor of the ordinance. "Well, we're not getting anything from you. Not a thing. Trust is earned, not expected, and this just seems different. The air is different."
Ty Clement has heard that sort of tone before. Clement, a local marriage and relationship counselor, listened to a recording of the June 23 meeting and noted a strong correlation between the zoning debate and fighting families who walk into his office.
"I'm assuming there're two sides here?" he asks, before learning that progressives hold a 7–5 majority over the council's more conservative members. "As long as one of the groups feels the things they are saying are not being validated, then that sends that minority into a further state of retreat because it breaks down trust."
The Independent called Clement to help identify just how council can work through its differences. During the day, Clement works as a counselor at the Winds of Change Mental Health Center and runs a private practice to help married couples. He doesn't have a personal opinion on the zoning debate, but he knows about group dynamics.
"Say with a family of five, you have a dyad and a triad," he says. "One side might be the mother, the sister and the younger brother. And when they get angry, they say, 'Fine, we're going shopping,' and they leave. And the dad and the older brother say, 'Okay, well, we'll just sit here and drink beer.' What happens is both sides invest their energy in avoiding the resolving process. If they don't find a responsible way of resolving the process, it will further entrench existing polarities."
With City Council, Clement hears both sides wanting a resolution, but senses a lack of trust in finding common ground. He also senses frustration with what's already become a long process.
For instance, Ward 1 Councilmember Jason Wiener, a progressive, moved to accept the zoning rewrite as passed by the Planning Board during the June 23 meeting. The idea, Wiener said, was not to pass the ordinance that day, but to find a starting point for the amendments to the rewrite that were sure to follow.
Ward 5 Councilmember Dick Haines, a conservative, argued that council should suspend all motions and work through the ordinance chapter by chapter. Haines explained that his motion would ensure that council investigated the entire ordinance rather than just the hot button issues, and it would prevent majority members from ramming the ordinance through the legislative process without input from the minority.
"A key to conflict resolution is patience," Clement says. "But typically, those that feel that their needs are already met tend to be the least patient."
That said, Clement cautions the minority council members not to take advantage of any added time.
"There's some validity to [the progressive's] point of view and that's where the other team has to provide a convincing version of what their plan is for an end date...The real struggle for any group is about the fact that you could literally talk about any issue forever, so there does need to be an end point or deadline."
Haines' motion failed in the meeting, and, as a compromise, Wiener amended his original motion so that if any member asked to vote on the ordinance, the council would have to wait a week before offering a show of hands.
More compromise followed June 24, when council found common ground on accessory dwelling units, aka granny flats, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the zoning rewrite. Clement says it's a promising sign.
"When people can find common ground, it becomes such a big issue in itself," he says. "All the other stuff, the emotion, falls away."
But it's just one step, he cautions. Relationships take time, and he suggests the council continue working toward its goal of passing the entire ordinance unanimously.
"With a group like this, when you discount somebody's perspectives or you don't encompass them, you're not talking about five individuals, you're talking about portions of the whole city," he says. "So it's really important that everyone's needs are considered."
And that means investing as much time and patience as it takes.