After some 60 public meetings and untold hours of staff time, on Monday, Nov. 24 the Missoula City Council passed the Urban Fringe Development Area project (UFDA), an amendment to the 2005 Missoula County Growth Policy that provides a blueprint for growth over the next 20 years.
Despite the long, laborious process, in the end the UFDA vote didn’t attract much public interest. Most of the people attending Monday’s Council meeting wanted to talk about the city’s use of deicer. By the time the council took up UFDA, the chamber had pretty much cleared out.
Earlier this month at a public hearing about the UFDA plan, some dozen or so concerned citizens stood to alternately praise the Office of Planning and Grants (OPG) or condemn the plan for encouraging excessive growth, prompting the Council to send the measure back to the Plat, Annexation and Zoning Committee. But when the plan came back up for a vote, only two members of the public troubled to address it.
Council members, however, embraced the opportunity to speak their minds; until now, they have remained largely quiet. Among the most supportive of the amendment were Ed Childress, Jason Wiener and Bob Jaffe. Jaffe, recalling his days on the campaign trail, endorsed the proposal “enthusiastically.” He said constituents had asked him to take a more proactive approach to growth and UFDA would do just that.
Wiener tried to calm fears about the growth plan, telling Councilwoman Renee Mitchell at one point, “I don’t think this amendment to the growth policy is nearly as ominous as some feel.”
The dissenters voiced varying objections. Jon Wilkins wasn’t convinced that the amendment answered the concerns of his constituents—the “what is this going to do to my neighborhood?” questions. Renee Mitchell and Dick Haines objected to the timing, arguing that UFDA should be addressed when the County takes up the growth policy next year. And John Hendrickson said he supported the work but feared making the growth policy into law. When it came to time to vote, his was “absolutely” no.
Ultimately, the vote passed 7-5 along ideological lines with progressives supporting and conservatives opposing.