Occupancy standards move to City Council’s fast track 

The Missoula City Council put occupancy standards on the fast track to the front of the city’s agenda this week.

The proposed standards, drafted by a group of university-area residents, would limit the number of non-related individuals who can live together in the same house or apartment. The city is considering the plan as part of Growth Management Phase Two, the major zoning overhaul, but a close council vote on Monday sent the proposal to the Planning Board on its own.

“I think a lot of things could get lost in Phase Two, this really unbundles it to some extent,” says Ward Six Councilman Ed Childers.

Childers, who says he is undecided about the occupancy standards, voted in favor of sending the issue to the Planning Board because he thinks it is an important issue that has been stagnant for too long.

“It’s a gesture to the people from the university-area who’ve been without the family definition for six years and felt they were promised a replacement of some kind,” Childers says.

The city’s old occupancy standards ordinance was sunk by its family definition in 1996. The Montana Human Rights Commission, investigating a complaint that the definition was discriminatory, negotiated with the city and the council removed the ordinance. In limiting non-related individuals, the new proposal focuses on a definition of “household” rather than “family.” While backers think this makes the new proposal legally sound, it has not won over a wide array of critics, from the Associated Students of the University of Montana to the Missoula County Association of Realtors.

Sending the proposal to the Planning Board now only fans these flames and stymies attempts at compromise, says Ward One Councilwoman Lois Herbig. She has been attending regular meetings with other council members, homeowners, students, and university representatives to try to work out a compromise on the issue. A forum was scheduled for later in the month, but now the fate of these efforts is unclear, she says.

“It’s really divisive the way it’s going now,” Herbig says. “Oftentimes when things get to the public hearing stage people are set and not there to listen to each other but to speak where they stand. It’s definitely not a dialogue.”

Councilmen Jerry Ballas (Ward Four) and Clayton Floyd (Ward Six) forced the issue out of committee and brought it before the council Monday. They voted yes, along with Childers, Anne Marie Kazmierczak, Lou Ann Crowley, and Jack Reidy. Herbig voted no along with John Engen, Jim McGrath, John Torma, and Scott Morgan.

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