Zoned Out 

With zoning and subdivisions issues, the Missoula Building Industry Association (MBIA) usually sides with the five minority members of the Missoula City Council. But as the council attempts to overhaul its zoning ordinance, Ryan Morton, government affairs director with the MBIA, sided with the majority on an issue which could hinder the ordinance's passage.

The issue is whether the new zoning ordinance is a change in zoning, or a rewrite of the existing ordinance. If it's the former, the two-year process leading up to the draft of the ordinance was conducted illegally. If the ordinance is a rewrite, the city is in compliance with state law. City Attorney Jim Nugent says the ordinance is a rewrite, but council members Dick Haines, Renee Mitchell, Lyn Hellegaard, John Hendrickson and Jon Wilkins aren't convinced. They've asked for an outside attorney to review Nugent's decision.

Morton, who supports the rewrite, sent Nugent's decision to attorneys at the national level of his organization. The attorneys agreed with Nugent, but Morton believes clarity is not the root of the councilors' concern.

"With second opinions, this is nothing new," Morton says. "People want opinions that equate with their outcomes. We tried to give them unbiased views, but I think with local politics, when people want a second opinion, they're looking for an outcome, not greater clarity."

On May 4, Hendrickson sent a referral to the Committee of the Whole to hire outside legal representation. So far, Council President Ed Childers hasn't placed the item on the agenda. If Hendrickson chooses, he and another colleague may choose to petition the committee to have the item placed on the agenda after six weeks has passed. Monday will mark the end of six weeks.

Wilkins says the MBIA's review doesn't sway his wish for outside legal consultation.

"They're biased," he says of the MBIA. "They support [the rewrite]. I don't want to influence the attorney in any sort of way. I want the person to look at the document and tell me it's a rezoning or not a rezoning."

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