Though the Missoula City Council couldn’t muster enough votes April 3 to extend an 18-month-old moratorium on planned neighborhood clusters (PNCs)—an infill tool the Council created in 2000 to encourage lower-cost housing by allowing smaller setbacks and lots—the controversial ordinance isn’t likely to stick around for long, at least in its current form.
After a heated discussion, the required two-thirds of Council refused to support keeping the ban in place: Jerry Ballas, John Hendrickson, Jack Reidy, Dave Strohmaier and Jon Wilkins favored maintaining the moratorium, while Ed Childers, Bob Jaffe, Heidi Kendall, Marilyn Marler and Stacy Rye voted against extending it. Dick Haines, who initially voted for the ban, strategically changed his vote at the last minute to assure the issue didn’t die, since anyone on the winning side of a vote can ask for reconsideration of the decision within two weeks. After the meeting, Haines said he fully intends to bring it back for another vote. Don Nicholson, who has supported the moratorium, was absent from the meeting.
Besides reconsideration of the vote, though, Wilkins made a referral to the Plat, Annexation and Zoning Committee to craft an ordinance that would do away with PNCs altogether.
The sudden, frenzied attempt to address the issue, which Council had placed on the back burner while the ban was in place for the last year and a half, has been welcomed both by those who loathe PNCs and those who think they have merits, but need tweaking.
Though many members of the audience and a few Council members sharply criticized the Office of Planning and Grants (OPG) for not coming up with a solution to the issue in the intervening months since the ban’s installation, Mayor John Engen pointed out at the end of the meeting that OPG follows Council’s policy and Council’s direction in this issue hasn’t been clear.
Besides, OPG has been working up two new policies—governing townhouses and town lots—that could ultimately replace PNCs. While the Planning Board is considering the townhouse ordinance, OPG’s Mike Barton says progress on the town lot measure is simply a matter of Council placing it on its agenda.